The harp is inextricably linked with healing. This can be seen not only in its mythic status as an archetypal healing instrument, but also in the range of currently available programmes intended to train therapeutic harp practitioners to serve in modern clinical settings.
The harp’s status as a healing instrument can be attributed to several factors, including its particularly resonant sound and pure harmonics, its wide pitch range (which maximises available frequencies) and its long decay (which gives the frequencies time to do their work).
The harp is used in clinical settings in two main ways: first, its music affects change by the process of entrainment – for example, the listener’s breath or heart rate slows to match the music, or their emotions shift to the mood of the piece. The second way involves applying specific frequencies from the harp directly to the desired part of the body via speakers installed in a vibroacoustic table or chair.
I have also witnessed the harp having a spontaneous releasing effect on its listeners. One day, at a care home performance, a man in the front row began to cry loudly and did not stop crying and howling for the whole hour. Staff brought him tissues and other residents held his hand as he kept repeating “its so beautiful, so beautiful.” I spoke to him afterwards and he could not say what it was in particular about the harp that touched him so deeply, but I do know that something in him was unblocked that day and the resultant emotional outpouring would have been deeply healing.