Arizona Giving and Leading: Harp Foundation

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Patients across the Phoenix metro area experience the healing power of music, thanks to this non-profit. Harpists bring comfort to patients, families and healthcare workers. We’ll introduce you to a woman who was so moved by music that she quit her job to become a full-time harpist and play at hospitals across the Valley.

Ted Simons: Music can move people in a variety of ways, including it seems the power to heal. Producer Christina Estes and photographer Juan Magana show us how the Harp Foundation is helping local hospital patients.

There's just something about harp music that's ethereal. I think people instantly relate to it.

Christina Estes: Even the tiny patients inside Saint Joseph's neonatal intensive care unit.

The sound of air being pushed through her nose is just a reminder that she needs to breathe.

Christina Estes: It may look like Jocelyn Obermeyer is just playing music for Baby Mary.

She likes this one right here.

Christina Estes: But she's also tuning in medically.

Jocelyn Obermeyer: I tailor the music to what I hear coming out of them. And the first thing I listen for is can I hear their pitch? It's very subtle and that's part of the training. It's how to hear the sounds that are coming out of people.

Christina Estes:: First learned of the harp's power six years ago when she was a school principal based with a parent volunteer losing her fight against cancer.

Jocelyn Obermeyer: She went on and on and on about how relaxing it was, how it calmed her down, how she was able to breathe better and how it healed her inner soul knowing she was going to pass. Hearing this beautiful music, it kept knocking at my harp to do it. It just kept knocking, play the harp, play the harp. And so I would get harp music and listen to it and felt so called to that work that I learned to play the harp, stopped being a principal and literally jumped right into it.
Christina Estes: Today Jocelyn is among musicians with the Harp Foundation. They play in lobbies and rooms across five Valley hospitals.

Lew Young: What we've found through evidence-based research that is if we bring therapeutic music into a situation where there's a lot of pain, it immediately relaxes the situation. And patients can heal faster. Their medications work faster and better, and they are able to leave the hospital earlier.

Christina Estes: Patients aren't the only ones touched by the strings.

Sister Margaret McBride: The demands of watching patients, the demands of the technology, you see alarms and beeps and everything going on. What we've found is the harp music actually, even for just a few minutes to calm them down and relax them, as if they taken a 30 minute break for staff members.

Patty Peterson: I've been a nurse here for 10 years.

Christina Estes: Patty Peterson has witnessed the transformation on staff, patients and her own family. As her daughter struggled during childbirth, something caught Patty's ear.

Patty Peterson: I'd go to the door and right outside her room there's a woman sitting there playing the harp. I got very emotional because my mother played the harp. I thanked her and said, I really appreciate this, it means a lot for us to do this. I went back inside and said to my daughter, Eden, Grandma's here, and she can't stay very long. I want you to get that baby out right now. So within a few minutes she delivered a beautiful healthy baby girl, my first grandchild.

The more that she rests and is comfortable, the more energy she'll store up. And it gives her that amount to be able to eat and interact.

Juliann Kernagis knew the melodies helped her newborn.

Juliann Kernagis: She had her eyes closed and she was moving her mouth. I could tell she had heard her playing. When she stopped she opened her eyes and noticed that she had stopped. So I think that she really enjoyed that.

It helps calm you, puts things into perspective, and to realize that this is what we're here for.

Ted Simons: For more on the Harp Foundation, how to get involved or learn where the harpers play, check out the website at

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