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Harp Therapy - The Jerusalem Harp Network

by Sunita Staneslow(more info)

listed in sound and music, originally published in issue 131 - January 2007

Journey into Harp Therapy

My journey into the world of Harp Therapy began more than ten years ago when I was living in the United States, and was a natural extension of my exploration into the traditional small harp or Celtic harp. My musical training had been within the classical harp tradition, and my early teachers regarded the small harp as merely a stepping stone to the ‘real’ harp, the grand carved instrument that graces most orchestras. I studied classical music on an orchestral harp, but my adventure began in 1988 when my Scottish born husband bought me a clarsach, a Scottish folk harp. I rediscovered the small harp and fell in love with its elegant simplicity.

Sound and Music by Harp

Since then almost 20 years have passed, and the renaissance of the folk harp is now in full swing. In North America alone there are now over 50 harp makers, their business fuelled by frequent folk harp festivals, workshops and the rapid growth of harp societies in most large towns and cities. The most rapidly growing area in the folk harp world is Harp Therapy, and many groups are seeking new ways to bring the gentle sound of the instrument to those in need, the sick, and the terminally ill. Over the past decade, these networks have coalesced into formal organizations with training programmes and certification, delivering Harp Therapy services across the Unites States, Canada, Great Britain and Japan. I began exploring Harp Therapy through participating in seminars in Chicago with Professor Ron Price, founder of Healing Harps.[1] It was through Dr Price that I learned how teaching the harp to others can be a powerful and empowering therapeutic tool. I also studied with the International Harp Therapy Programme[2] founded by Tina Tourin, and with Laurie Riley, founder of the Music for Healing and Transition Programme.[3]

Sound of Healing

Today, hundreds of professional practitioners are providing service to patients in hospitals, hospices, and nursing homes. The Harp Therapy Journal[4] provides a voice for this emerging professional community. Harp therapy should not be confused with music therapy, which uses music and instruments in clinical therapeutic settings. While Harp Therapy is used to relax and comfort patients, it is not prescriptive and does not require active participation. However, the process often lessens the perception of pain, and as the body responds to the music, the heart rate and breathing can be steadied.

During 2004 and 2005 I participated in a study on the impact of live music on newborns at Meir Hospital in the town of Kfar Saba where I live in central Israel. Together with a colleague, singer and percussionist Eliana Gilad, 100 hours were spent playing in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit.

Before playing regularly at the hospital, Eliana and I needed to convince the entire NICU staff that our music would be beneficial. One of the head physicians, Dr Shmuel Arnon, neonatologist, also a trained cantor (Jewish liturgical singer), took a special interest in having live music in the unit. He was the one who led the study and supported us every step of the way. Live music in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit was a new idea, and we were entering a highly sensitive part of the hospital. After a few months we felt welcomed and completely comfortable. The nurses dimmed the lights as soon as we arrived and spoke in softer voices. Just the idea of having music in the NICU was calming, and the staff said that the calming atmosphere lasted throughout the day.

We played in a controlled and carefully monitored environment and the results of the study, published in the British Nursing Journal Birth,[5] concluded that: “Compared with recorded music or no music therapy, live music therapy is associated with a reduced heart rate and a deeper sleep at 30 minutes after therapy in stable preterm infants”.

Spirit of Jerusalem Harp Network

During the same period I began meeting and discussing Harp Therapy with The Jerusalem Harp Circle. Members of this group established the organization NEVEL: The Jerusalem Harp Network.[6] NEVEL. (Nevel is the Hebrew word for harp.) It seems so natural to use the harp for therapy in Israel. After all, King David is the most famous harp therapist the world has ever known!

Two years ago several members of NEVEL began studying a correspondence course that would lead to certification as Music Practitioners. Shoshana, one of the most motivated students, also began bringing her harp to the Sha’arei Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem to play for patients. She befriended Dr Cherney, the head of the oncology department, and was received with open arms into the entire oncology wing. When Shoshana learned that a close friend was diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer, she made frequent visits to the hospital with her harp, only to find that her friend wanted to speak rather than listen to the harp. After a few short months, Shoshana’s friend was no longer able to eat and her four young children and husband were called to the hospital. Shoshana brought her harp to the bedside, but decided to play in the hallway because there was too much commotion in the room.

Shoshana’s friend’s ten year-old son had been stroking his mother’s hand and was drawn to the music in the hallway. He wanted to try to play the harp! With Shoshana’s assistance, David played for over an hour in the hallway. Then, he told Shoshana that he wanted to play for his mother. So, Shoshana showed David how to play very gently, as if he was stroking his mother’s hand, her face and her neshama (soul).

David strummed the harp at the bedside for what must have been an eternity for an active ten year-old. He found a way to say goodbye whereas before, he did not know what to do or what to say. The energy in the room changed from utter chaos to calm. After not speaking for almost 12 hours, David’s mother was able to gather the strength to say ‘music’. This was her last word.

I told this story to a small audience in Los Angeles. A woman approached me after the concert and generously offered to donate a harp to a hospital in Jerusalem. Because Shoshana was willing to let David play for his mother, we not only had a beautiful story but a harp that could be used at the hospital. So many powerful moments have become possible since the donation of the harp in Sha’arei Tzedek Hospital.
The following year David decided that he wanted to learn to play the harp. He is now my student, and is beginning to find his own voice. Last January was the second anniversary of his mother’s death. Last year, David did not have anything to contribute to the memorial service. This year, he wrote and performed a song on the harp in honour of his mother. His empowerment and emotional healing through learning illustrates the transformative possibilities of Harp Therapy. David’s story embodies the spirit of NEVEL, of the possibility of changing the lives of the living, while servicing the needs of those in transition.

Healing Sounds of NEVEL Today

Several NEVEL harp players now play in the oncology wing at Sha’arei Tzedek where we work closely with the Social Worker and Chaplain. Shoshana, Jill and Tirtza have been the main hospital musicians, though seven of us have played for the oncology wing. Last summer Shoshana played at the bedside of a three-year-old who was electrocuted. She phoned me from the hospital. It was one of the most difficult situations she had encountered. The parents’ families were feuding over whether to donate the child’s organs. According to Jewish religious law, the body should be buried whole; often autopsies are denied. But there is a loophole in Jewish law, and to save a life the organs can be donated. So, the argument was a religious one and very intense. Shoshana went to the child’s bedside and played the harp for two days. Shoshana is a devout Jew and could understand both sides of the argument. We are certain that her compassion and calming presence played a role in the final decision to donate five organs and save five lives. The harpists also faithfully visit a teenager who is completely paralyzed after slipping down stairs and has been hospitalized for almost a year.

NEVEL is now a registered charity in Israel and seeking funding for the placement of Harp Practitioners in Israeli hospitals. We have begun a long and exciting journey with the personal rewards that come from helping those in need. Our dream is to continue growing, and branch out to work in hospitals around Israel. My personal dream is to establish a programme at a children’s hospital where long-term paediatric patients could learn to play the harp.

In ancient times, the harp was used for prophecy, healing and praise. In modern Israel we are reclaiming the ancient tradition and bringing the healing sounds of the harp to those in need.


1.    Healing Harps.
2.    IHTP: International Harp Therapy Programme.
3.    MHTP: Music for Healing and Transition Programme.
4.    The Harp Therapy Journal.
5.    Arnon, Shmuel, Shapsa, Anat, Forman, Liat, Regev, Rivka, Bauer, Sofia, Litmanovitz, Ita and Dolfin. Tzipora. 2006. Live Music is Beneficial to Preterm Infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Environment. Birth. 33 (2): 131-136. doi: 10.1111/j.0730-7659.2006.00090.x
6.    NEVEL: The Jerusalem Harp Network.


  1. Mark Harmer said..

    Lovely article. I've read the research cited, about live music continuing to have an effect for 30 minutes after the music ends. It happens that the effect was only measured for 30 mins since that's how the research was designed. I now know of people who say the effects continue for far longer after the harpist finishes but there aren't yet any formal studies taking this further. I'm actively studying this effect in my own work in Gloucester neonatal unit. Thank you for posting this. The stories, particularly about the teenager finding a voice through playing the harp, are beautiful and inspiring.

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About Sunita Staneslow

Sunita Staneslow received a BA from Tufts University and her Master’s degree in performance from the Manhattan School of Music. Sunita’s recordings have been distributed worldwide, and she tours and performs in Israel, Europe and North America. She has released 12 CDs on several labels of Jewish, Celtic and Classical music, and published ten books of her harp arrangements. Sunita has performed with the Minnesota Opera, the Chicago Chamber Orchestra and the Jerusalem Symphony. She also performs with the Ra’anana Syphonette, and is a founding member of the charity, NEVEL, which brings therapeutic harp music to hospitals. She may be contacted via Tel: +972-54-212-5159; Fax: +972-9-777-0020;;

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