Certified clinical musician Chloe Beaumont-Field uses her harp to minister to people at the end of their life, playing music which resonates through the body, reducing anxiety, breathing and pulse rate. Rosalie Willis learns about the ancient practice of therapeutic music and how the harp has long been used as a healing instrument.
Since the most ancient of days the harp has been used as a healing instrument, an instrument to take away anxiety and relax the body and soul.
Discovering this unique form of therapy, Chloe Beaumont-Field has brought specialist training back to New Zealand, using her harp to reach the heart of people in Kāpiti.
Recently qualifying as a certified clinical musician, Chloe is one of the only certified clinical musicians in harp therapy in New Zealand.
Studying classical piano as a child and developing a deep love for music, it was while living in Buenos Aires that Chloe discovered the Celtic harp and its 'warm soothing tone'.
It was here in 2012 that she began to learn to play the 33-string Celtic Lever Harp and go on to study therapeutic music.
Therapeutic music is played to minister to the unique emotional, spiritual and mental needs of a person often during the last days of their life.
"I'm here to put people to sleep, to lower anxiety," Chloe said.
"If their pulse rate is racing or they're breathing very quickly, my role is to entrain the breathing and bring the breath right down so they are at peace and help them become a lot calmer.
Playing ancient music that is hundreds, sometimes thousands of years old, Chloe goes around individual rooms of residents at Eldon Lodge Rest Home in Paraparaumu catering to where each person is at - whether that means uplifting music, or music to make them relax.
"I have to adjust my music to each person.
"I often play a little tune in each mode and find out which one they like best.
"They will tell me what they like best, but when I'm playing for someone who is very sick I just have to watch them and see if they are restless.
"If they are still moving about I will change to a different mode, or key and see if they respond better.
"It is one of the only instruments that resonates with the body and has the capability of influencing the body's natural energy pattern.
"The harp has always been considered a healing instrument."
Chloe has been playing harp for six months at Eldon Lodge and other retirement villages around the Wellington region after completing her training as a certified clinical musician.
Differing from music therapy, music therapy is about getting the person to respond to the music, to interact whereas therapeutic musicians are there to support the person, not entertain.
"With me there is no interaction unless the person is wide awake and wants to chat."
Chloe's journey with harp therapy began after her husband became sick in his mid-40s.
Suffering from an inherited kidney disease, Chloe found that he had great medical support but no psychological support.
"He had the best treatment available at the time but as far as any psychological help he had nothing."
Therapeutic music is not intended to replace medical care but to complement it.
By reducing stress and triggering the relaxation response, therapeutic music can bring comfort and potentially remove blockages to healing, by allowing medical care and medications to be more effective.
"Although I can't play for my husband anymore I can play for other people.
"It's all about uplifting people, making them feel inspired.
"This work is intimate work, at the bedside."
One such person who has been impacted by Chloe's work is 90-year-old Doreen Weston who lives at Eldon Lodge.
"I heard her music before I could see it," she said.
Hearing Chloe play in a room nearby, Doreen would take her walker out and sit outside the door and listen.
"It's very, very relaxing - just heavenly."
Coming from a dancing background with a very musical family, Doreen finds herself able to relax when listening to Chloe.
Many residents Chloe plays for are less physically able and in the last days of their life with the music being used to calm and relax them during their last moments on earth.
Benefits of therapeutic live harp music
-Creates a peaceful environment when noise surrounds
-Reduces rapid breathing and heart rate, whether for newborns or seniors
-Allows for the release of tension and grief
-Facilitates the transition process for the dying
-Supports pain management and medication
-Creates time for contemplation and deep rest