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Harpists soothe area hospice patients through Duluth program

Gently, Barbara Glick's fingers caressed her harp strings and coaxed out soothing ripples of sound that filled the hospice room. Tucked in bed under a rose-colored blanket, Barbara Peterson closed her eyes and let the music wash over her. Occasio...

Gently, Barbara Glick's fingers caressed her harp strings and coaxed out soothing ripples of sound that filled the hospice room.

Tucked in bed under a rose-colored blanket, Barbara Peterson closed her eyes and let the music wash over her. Occasionally, she would lift her right hand, as if to direct the music.

Glick sat next to Peterson's bed while six family members crowded into the St. Luke's room on Aug. 23 to be with the 74-year-old Superior woman. When Glick was done playing, Peterson thanked her for the beautiful music and said she would keep Glick in her heart. "I'll keep you in my heart, too, dear," the harpist replied. Four days later, Peterson died with loved ones at her side.

Glick shares harp music as a certified music practitioner. She plays for hospice patients at St. Luke's, as well as St. Luke's and St. Mary's hospice patients in homes and nursing homes.

On Sept. 15, Glick hopes to recruit other musicians and vocalists who are interested in bringing comfort and healing to others. She plans an informational meeting on local training through the Music for Healing and Transition Program.

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HELPING PEOPLE

Glick's work with hospice patients inspired her friend and fellow harpist Verna Porter, who plays once a week for patients at St. Mary's Hospice and Palliative Care Program in Duluth.

Glick, who lives in rural Duluth, first heard about using the harp for healing and comfort at a grief conference workshop she attended after the death of a young family member. She learned about the effect music has on the body and spirit. "I thought I could do that and help others who are hurting," she said.

Glick occasionally played the harp for a friend who had Alzheimer's disease. One time her friend responded to an old hymn. "She recognized this hymn in her soul or spirit and started humming," she said.

On a visit to a hospice patient, Glick played a song called "Butterflies" and then found herself in a conversation about the transformation of metamorphosis. Butterflies became Glick's symbol. During a recent interview, blue butterfly earrings dangled from her ears.

Glick sometimes plays "Butterflies" for patients when they seem depressed. She encourages them to visualize butterflies coming from far away, taking up the sadness and then leaving. "I play softly to begin with, then flutter and go away and fade," she said.

After her husband, Wendell, died four years ago, Glick became a hospice volunteer with St. Luke's and St. Mary's. She discovered the Music for Health and Transition Program, which offers training at sites around the country. She traveled to Oregon five times to complete the course work to become a certified music practitioner.

The accredited program includes five modules spaced at least two months apart, reading, book report assignments and an internship in which the student is required to play 45 hours one-on-one with patients. Students also are required to develop a 90-minute repertoire.

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Most of Glick's former classmates have found jobs as certified music practitioners, but at age 81 she doesn't plan to work. She plays for patients because it's fulfilling. "It makes me feel real good to play for other people," she said.

A music practitioner is not a music therapist, who earns a four-year-degree, or an entertainer, Glick stressed. Live music is used to create a healing environment to help those who are ill or dying, according to the program's student handbook.

"Hospitals and nursing homes are realizing the benefits of having live music for their patients," Glick said.

Margaret Wolters, director of St. Mary's Hospice and Palliative Care Program, thinks it's wonderful when people share live music with patients. They bring their sense of presence to the patients and help patients and their families, she said.

THE POWER OF MUSIC

Glick has seen music do amazing things.

Once a patient with Alzheimer's disease reached over and used her finger to trace the rose design on Glick's harp as she played. The woman then bent her head to look at Glick through the harp strings and smiled. "The music touched her," Glick said.

Through her training, Glick learned how to use different kinds of music to accommodate a patient's needs. For example, she has seen patients who were agitated become calm as she plays soothing music.

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Glick once was asked to play at a man's deathbed.

"It's a very spiritual place. The setting is very private and personal, and you have to be careful not to intrude on the family's space. You have to sense where the patient is in the process of letting go," she said. "I came away from that with a tremendous sense of helping someone through the end-of-life process. It's very sacred."

Glick was with the patient for 90 minutes. He was still alive when she left. She was so moved by the experience, she wanted to do something special for herself, so she went to Bethany Cemetery near her home to play the harp at her husband's grave.

It was a windy day and as she set the harp on top of his gravestone, the wind blew through the strings and created an ethereal sound.

"It was amazing," she said. "I thought it was so special. ... I gave my husband a nice piece of music."

SACRED SPACE

Porter has been playing for hospice patients one morning a week for the past year and a half. Porter, who is 71, considers Glick her mentor. Seeing Glick play at age 81, Porter figures she has at least 10 more years of doing the same and plans to train to become a certified music practitioner if the program can be offered locally.

On a recent Monday morning, Porter played at the bedside of Geraldine Bennett in St. Mary's hospice unit. Bennett listened serenely as Porter sat next to her bed and played "Kum Ba Yah," "Amazing Grace" and "Flow Gently Sweet Afton."

"Are you in the mood for a hymn?" Porter asked.

"Yes, that would be nice," the 80-year-old Superior woman said.

Porter played "Nearer My God to Thee" and a few other songs.

"I've enjoyed playing for you this morning," Porter told Bennett with a smile.

"I love to hear you play," Bennett said.

Outside the room, Porter's eyes filled with tears as she talked about how she feels blessed to share her harp music with patients. When she enters a hospice patient's room, she considers it a sacred space.

"You receive much more than you give," Porter said.

LINDA HANSON can be reached weekdays at (218) 723-5335 or by e-mail at lhanson@duluthnews.com .

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