I sign my name on the dotted line beside the 1:30 p.m. slot. Why not? The only thing I can lose is fifteen minutes of my time, and what I might learn in that time is certainly worth the risk. I am about to find out about the effects of the healing sounds of the harp, and a crack in the window of knowledge of music therapy might open.
Besides, I’m at a harp retreat at St. Michael’s Retreat House perched on the hillside of the magnificent Qu’Appelle Valley. Maryanne, Marguerite and Cécile have already created a calm, welcoming atmosphere for the harpists attending today. One of the monks has greeted me at the main entrance with a huge smile, and Irish accent, and a tale about being the cousin of a legendary Irish harpist. Blarney from beginning to end, but it takes me a while, as it usually does, to confirm my suspicions. Still, he tells me to leave my harp and my bags at the door, not to worry. Maryanne massages my hands to prepare them for the day’s workout, and invites me to select a necklace from the collection on the table. I’ve only been here five minutes, and I feel pampered already. I’ve parachuted into another world for the day.
Why not, then, experience the healing sounds of the harp? As the poster on the registration table advises, I arrive five minutes before the appointed time. I light a candle, and settle into the easy chair that faces the table. Eyes closed, muscles fusing with the chair, I focus on my breathing, and relax my face, one element at a time: forehead, eyes, cheeks, mouth, and jaw. A few breaths later, a door opens, and it’s my turn.
Lights are dim; vines of melody create filigrees in the background. I notice a yellow mat, a harp, and a chair. In bare feet, I stretch out on the mat, knees up, a gift to my low back, my head near the base of the harp.
Cécile tells me she will play some individual notes on the harp, and I should tell her when one of the notes resonates with me. Okay. My intellect kicks in at this moment. What happens if nothing happens? What if none of the notes resonate? I tell myself to relax, that this experience is for information. Cécile plays a series of bass notes, slowly. Really, I have to pick one? As she plays, I have an idea, but I need confirmation. Just as I am about to ask for a repeat, Cécile begins again. Yes, it’s the first note, the low C. She finishes, and resumes a third time. I raise my hand right away. The note vibrates through my core, like it wants to start a conversation. While I relax on the mat, Cécile improvises from that note, wandering away but always returning to it as an anchor. I wonder why that particular note, why it’s the bass note that glues me to the floor.
It is, for sure, a reminder of a strong foundation, a solid base, that gives strength. I need that today. A recital for family and friends wraps up the day after supper, and I don’t feel ready. Preparation is a sine qua non for me in all I do, especially music, where I feel most vulnerable. Maybe the foundational qualities of the bass C anchor me, root me, provide the security that allows me to explore and take risks. I am reminded of Matthew Fox—to be a prophet, that is, to uproot others, you have to be well-rooted yourself.
Certainly, the resonance of the low C aligns with a presentation earlier in the day about the importance of posture, of keeping shoulders, chin, head, pelvis and pubis in the same plane. This time, the anchor is physical, a key component of playing the harp, or any instrument. I wonder, too, if the bass C relates to finality, to my age, now that I have lived at least two-thirds of my life. Perhaps it connects to a feeling of completion, a process of tying up the threads I have woven throughout my life so far.
As I leave, I ask Cécile about the notes that people select. It varies for each person, she says. I neglect to ask her if it might vary for me depending on the day. If I had the same experience two weeks from now, for example, in a different place and in a different context with different baggage, would the same note sing for me?
Only another “healing sounds of the harp” session would confirm my theory. For now, the experience itself centres me, keeps me calm, poised, and philosophical about the concert. I focus on the energy the other harpists project, on the camaraderie that characterizes the day, and on what I have learned. Mostly, I feel gratitude to Cécile, Marguerite and Maryanne for their time, their work and their energy on this project, and for the vision to conceptualize it in the first place. I take the time to congratulate myself, too; after all, I responded to my intuition, and bought a harp.