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When people are dying, and words and gestures become inadequate, music can help people express their inexpressible feelings and ease their worst pain. This is the philosophy behind music therapy, a fusion of music, psychology and simple compassion.

The sound of music in ordinarily silent, sterile hospital corridors has enriched the last days of terminally ill patients in select palliative care centres across Canada for many years. Two Londoners are among a growing number of people in Canada who are bringing music to the bedside.

Joni Luterman, an accredited music therapist and faculty member of the music therapy program at Wilfred Laurier University, says more people involved in palliative care are learning about the discipline.

In London, this growing awareness is partly due to a workshop she teaches in a multi-disciplinary palliative care course offered through the University of Western Ontario. The seminar introduces doctors, nurses and other palliative-care professionals to the benefits of music therapy.

Bringing song and sound into the lives of people who are dying touches different people in different ways, she says, but the therapist's essential goals are always the same. They want to diminish patient's anxiety, loneliness, fear and pain, and boost their sense of well-being.

Music therapists assess patients individually to determine how they can facilitate these changes. Depending on the situation, they may compile people's favorite music on tape that can be left to their loved ones, compose songs with them, play instruments, sing or just listen to favorite music selections together.

She says music affects people on a very personal level, and it can induce calm and encourage emotional expression. "Music is a part of everybody's lives," she says.

uses music's instinctive appeal to comfort people nearing the end of their lives, but she has taken a different approach in her education. Brown is an accomplished harpist studying to be a practitioner of harp therapy, not an accredited music therapist. She will graduate from the International Harp Therapy Program in Vermont this summer (1997).

Brown has been practicing harp therapy at St. Joseph's Health Centre since July '96, but the idea of working in palliative care occured to her much earlier. She says playing the harp has always been very calming for her, and she felt it was uniquely suited to helping people who needed some serenity in their lives. "I think it has to do with the gentleness of the sound and the amount of vibration that comes off the harp. You really feel it, and it's very therapeutic."

Part of Brown's training involves learning about the harp's impact on the body, mind and spirit. She says vibrations of different resonances affect different components of a person.

"The music is always a catalyst," she says. "It always initiates something. I have not been in a room where the music has not sparked conversation, tears or relaxation. It touches the heart."

People respond very differently to harp music, so she never has an agenda for therapy sessions.

While some of the methods may vary, harp therapy practitioners and music therapists such as Brown and Luterman share at least one objective -- to use music to enhance the quality of life of people confronting death.

"There's so much self-discovery on the job," Brown says. "You're touched on a heart level so deeply, and you find out if you're really a person of compassion or not. If you're not, I really don't think you can do this work."
An article from the palliative care special sections insert
of the London Free Press - Spring 1997 - by Megan Easton.


July 20, 1996 Jacquelyn played live harp music for the labour and delivery of a male child, Hayden, at 7 lbs. 2 oz. in Kitchener, ON Canada at 4:15 am at a home birth assisted by midwives.

Sat. Sept. 6, 1997 Jacquelyn played harp music for the memorial service of Diana, Princess of Wales, at St. Paul's Anglican Cathedral in London, Canada. A half hour harp prelude and an instrumental version of Jacquelyn's song - The Winds Of Love - was played during the service.

Wed. Oct. 8, 1997 Jacquelyn played harp music for the funeral of her oldest nephew Tom, who was 24. A half hour harp prelude and an instrumental version of Jacquelyn's song - The Winds Of Love - as a recessional were played... a difficult yet meaningful time.

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