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Laurie Niles

Music and Art to the Rescue

September 3, 2012 at 4:26 AM

Real life, over the past 48 hours, has reminded me about the power of music and art.

Friday morning, my teenage daughter awoke with an ache in her stomach so bad she could barely walk. She's had a bit of pain all week, but this was something far worse. We took her to the doctor, and after a morning of uncomfortable medical tests, the results pointed to appendicitis -- and imminent surgery for her. Remembering my sister's burst appendix in childhood and her hellish recovery, I understood all too well that you don't mess with appendicitis, and you don't wait for it to worsen. But that didn't help my daughter feel any better.

We couldn't console her, and everything the surgeon at the hospital said just made things scarier and worse. He explained procedures that involved needles and knives, dangers, possible complications -- all in unvarnished detail. Suddenly we were being admitted to the hospital's pediatric ward and moved to a room for more tests. Our anxiety rose.

We sat despondently, already tired from our day, and knowing we had much, much more to face. At this point, a stream of beautiful sounds surprised us. What was that? I peeked out the door. A big, beautiful harp sat in the hall, a woman playing it. I can say with certainty, this would not have felt the same, piped over speakers as background music. A real, live person had brought her enormous harp to the fourth floor of the hospital, and her well-trained fingers strummed and plucked away, all with the intent of pacifying people in distress. Each note sprang so clearly from a vibrating string; it was so present. And it worked. We grinned at each other when we started to recognize the tunes forming in the ether: Feed the Birds from Mary Poppins; Scales and Arpeggios from the Aristocats; Winnie the Pooh… Play any song on the harp, and it sounds sophisticated and heavenly, no matter what its origin!

The music changed the hospital atmosphere completely, from a worried bustle to beauty and peace. We breathed easier -- for a while.

Because a number of hours later, our daughter was in surgery, and we had several hours to pass before we would see her. Having neglected to eat all day, I realized I was hungry, and my son accompanied me to the cafeteria. Choosing where we would sit, we noticed some outdoor seating and headed toward the door. We found a beautiful courtyard, with flowers, fountains and foliage. We sat in the midst of it. I wondered, who made this garden? Who raised money, who decided it was important enough to have this here?

Because it is. It's incredibly important to have this here. All these things helped us immeasurably; they gave us strength and courage. How can anyone fail to see that the arts heal us, help us, even save us?

* * *

She is still recovering in the hospital but definitely on the mend. So many people have sent us their thoughts and prayers -- thanks to all of you!

From Emily Hogstad
Posted on September 3, 2012 at 4:38 AM
THANK YOU LAURIE!!! I'm so sick and tired of this idea that anything worthwhile in life is money-oriented. I'm becoming more and more aware that you just can't measure the positive impact of certain experiences or beautiful spaces that seem, at first glance, frivolous or financially unfeasible. I'm not saying we shouldn't as a society be frugal and wise with our expenditures, but people who think about price-tags and nothing else are poor beyond words, and are looking at the bark of trees when they really need to step back and see the beauty of the forest.

Best wishes to your daughter!!!

From marjory lange
Posted on September 3, 2012 at 4:44 AM
Good wishes for your daughter's quick, complete recovery.

You are right, of course...and the key is being able to see and hear what is right with us (not piped over a loudspeaker or found on an i-device). We need to become present--as you did, in your fear--and you found the consolation to carry on.

Thank you so much for sharing.

From George Mitrou
Posted on September 3, 2012 at 10:00 AM
How touching!

I definitely agree, art heals your soul, too bad I don't see much art these days, and everyone is talking about money and football (Which I totally HATE)...

My best wishes to your daughter also :)

From Paul Deck
Posted on September 3, 2012 at 2:10 PM
In this day of fifty dollar gigs, one wonders whether the harpist was paid a reasonable fee and whether she collected any tips.
From Emily Grossman
Posted on September 3, 2012 at 5:16 PM
I'm so glad your daughter made it safely through surgery and is on her way to being well again!
From Nairobi Young
Posted on September 3, 2012 at 9:43 PM
I played in a septet at a childrens hospital, once during Christmas and the other time just as school let out. The first time was the best experience because my private teacher was with us and helped us loosen up and help the kids feel better. The children where adorable and loved the music. The most memorable part of it ring when we were about to pack up. The little girl came and was dissappointed when she saw that we were packing up. So we unpacked and played a song specially for her and made her feel really good about herself. We did not get paid, but the experience was payment enough.

I am glad that music was there to help ease both you and you family. I wish a fast and easy recovery for your daughter. I'm happy that everything went as planed. I send love and wishes!!

From Tom Holzman
Posted on September 3, 2012 at 9:51 PM
Thank goodness your daughter is on the mend. All of us send our thoughts and prayers for a speedy recovery. Music is truly a healing art, even for those who we know are not going to heal. I played for my mother as often as I could as she lay dying from a stroke. I know that Yo Yo Ma played for his father and also for the wife of his mentor, Leon Kirchner, as his wife lay dying. I hope that someone will play for me when I am sick and/or dying.
From Dessie Arnold
Posted on September 4, 2012 at 3:51 PM
After reading about the Indianapolis Symphony's difficult contract negotiations, and some of the comments on that news article from people who very clearly just don't understand or appreciate what professional music involves, your article was a breath of fresh air.
From Benedict Gomez
Posted on September 4, 2012 at 5:26 PM
The harp is the one instrument that can given the violin a "run for its' money" in terms of completely capturing my undivided attention. I've also heard (often) that either the violin or the harp is the most difficult instrument to learn to play, though I dont know if that's true. But what I do know is that a well-played harp is mesmerizing to me.
From Benedict Gomez
Posted on September 4, 2012 at 6:10 PM
A little OT, but LN's post has me reading up on harps, and I was shocked to find that Strad made harps (pic below). Maybe this is common knowledge and I'm just unaware, but I thought I'd post link to the pic in case anyone else found this interesting.

From Jim Hastings
Posted on September 4, 2012 at 7:27 PM
Oh, man -- what an ordeal; but glad to read that she's on the mend.

So true -- music does have a healing impact. I've experienced it. It wasn't with anything nearly as serious as appendicitis, but it was enough to convince me that this stuff works. Same for tasteful artwork and landscaping. This makes me want to share the music still more. If it brightens a few more lives and eases some stress, that's enough to make my day.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on September 5, 2012 at 5:30 AM
Someone I know told me that in the hospital where her husband had heart surgery, you could hire a harpist to play in a patient's room. How much better it was to have a harpist give the gift of music to patients and their families without charging them.

When I was a kid, I had my tonsils removed in a Catholic hospital during Christmas break. It was minor surgery, but I was pretty uptight. As I lay sleeping in my hospital room after the surgery, I awoke to hear nuns walking through the halls singing Christmas carols. It was beautiful.

I will always remember with appreciation that people on played some music by Bach for me when I was deeply in need.

I send my best wishes to your daughter and to you, too, for rapid healing. When I play my violin tomorrow, I'll play something for her (and for you).

From Don Sullivan
Posted on September 6, 2012 at 12:24 AM
You guys are in my prayers. I'm glad she is on the mend. Keep us posted. God bless you & your family abundantly with joy & healing.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on September 10, 2012 at 2:59 AM
Thank you everyone, and thank you for playing for her, Pauline!

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