My day starts checking that my team of eight harps are in good shape. The task of tuning these eight therapy harps can involve up to 208 strings! Harp strings go out of tune in the cold weather so I need to take extra care with this in the winter months.
I then pack the car with everything that I need. In some of my groups I never know how many people are going to attend. My sessions are 100% inclusive. So, if more than eight clients attend I need to make sure that I have enough additional instruments (eg desk bells percussion, chimes, rainsticks etc) to accompany the harps and to ensure that nobody is left out.
I have a morning group at Cancerwise in Chichester for people currently going through cancer diagnosis and their associated treatments, as well as for those living beyond cancer. The focus in this group is to allow people the freedom to be creative and to let their imagination flow. The idea is to absorb them in occupation, to help distract them from their treatment plans or impending results, and to allow everyone the space to do something beautiful.
Everybody in the group plays the harp. I believe there is no wrong note and that we are all musical, we do some simple exercises on the harps to build up confidence. All the harps are tuned in the same key and make a sweet sound when played together. Next, we improvise on the harps until our playing naturally comes to a close. During this stage our playing can become meditative and offers a distraction from the uncertainties and anxiety that cancer brings. Some members get into the beneficial Flow (Csikszentmihalyi 2002) state. It’s during this time of relaxation that the parasympathetic nervous system can heal and repair the body.
At the end of the session I make sure my clients are grounded and together we may discuss their experience of playing the harps. For some people playing the harp can be very special and moving. This can be emotional and people often need to share their experience.
Next, I have a session at a care home. I really need to use my flexible occupational therapy skills and my ‘what is willing to meet me’ harp therapy skills at care homes. Sometimes my session is in the lounge for a group of up to 15 people, and sometimes it is divided between individuals in their rooms. I never really know until I get there.
Today it’s a mixture, but it is about participation regardless of where I am. There is a crowd in the lounge and I engage them individually with the harp depending on their levels of physical and cognitive ability. Some play the harp, some like to sing along while I play or tap their fingers, or sway to the music. Some people with hearing impairments love to feel the vibration of the harp strings or place their hands on the sound box to feel the vibrations. The most important thing is that people engage in the activity and are part of the ‘doing’. Next I get out my set of desk bells. With the help of the Activity Co-ordinator we make sure everybody has a table for their bell and we play together. The desk bells are accessible to all and they make a sound when the top is pushed down. Everybody has one bell and each bell has one note. I conduct them through various tunes, such as Frere Jacques or the Star Wars theme. After we complete these tunes, everybody seems to show a sense of achievement and perhaps a raised self esteem.
Next, I play for people in their rooms who are unable to get out of bed. I always make this person centred and engage in cognitive stimulation and reminiscence through music. One lady who is 105 loves to sing a favourite song from her childhood in Scotland – Bonnie Mary of Argyle. This is clearly a meaningful activity for this lady because the staff tell me it is the only activity that she actively takes part in. Her eyes light up, and she sings the words that she remembers, and la la la’s along when she doesn’t. It’s a very powerful experience, and the Activity Co-ordinator films it to share with staff and family.
After discussing what has happened during my session with the Activity Co-ordinator and giving her my notes, it’s back home for admin. I complete my outcome measure, the validated Arts Observation Measure (Fancourt and Poon 2015), and write my notes. Any time left is used to reflect, invoice, respond to enquires, update social media, keep my accounts up to date, write my CPD and plan for tomorrow….