Kupuna Life: Music Therapy

Local News

Ruth Freedman isn’t tugging at the harp strings at a wedding, or in a concert hall rather, in a hospital hall.

In earshot of doctors, nurses, and most importantly patient’s rooms where her harp’s song may touch pain or sorrow.

Freedman, a harpist said, “Because this is not only soothing, it’s distraction for people who are aching at that moment.”

Perhaps not surprising, Ruth was studying nursing in college when she fell in love with the harp.

She became a Registered Nurse for 30 years, the last ten in Kalaupapa.  Its church, her harp’s home, and where she practiced and performed for patients.

She retired on Oahu, went to the public library for sheet music, to expand her repertoire to more than 100 Hawaiian songs, 26 Japanese songs, 12 Filipino songs.  

Then she went to UH.

She said, “And I didn’t realize UH after 60 they have tuition free space available, and I got in the UH Symphony.”

“I believe it was 1990 for 5 years I repeated that course the repertory always changed, and it was so challenging.”

But it’s where she learned the power of harp therapy.

Freedman said, “I like to quote one of the professors of music therapy I studied with at UH, and this was Arthur Harvey, who said the harp is the most therapeutic instrument of them all because of its great sound body.”

More than seven years ago Freedman started playing one day a month, hours on end, going floor to floor, from ER to ICU, providing harp therapy, here at Straub.

She said, “Whenever I come they say, ‘Oh the harp lady is here.'”

It’s the hospital that cared for her father.

“How do you say thanks for a year of good care, I said let me play in your cafe and give a thanks that way.”

At 81 years old, she’s here on holidays and maybe 3 to 4 times a year now. It’s not easy transporting this six-foot tall, 100 pound, 100 year old harp she’s had for more than half that time.

Freedman said, “It’s therapy to me, don’t forget this sound envelopes me first and even practice wasn’t ever a chore I think, ‘Oh how come my back hurts, oh the time, I’ve been playing here for 8 hours.'” 

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