The Healing Power of Music

As Nicole Anderson plucked the strings of her harp, Sarah Sullivan of Marshfield took a deep breath and relaxed into her bed. The worries, fears, angst of being in a hospital bed seemed to leave Sullivan’s body for just a few brief moments, as Anderson’s fingers moved back and forth; creating a soothing sound that filled the room.

When Anderson finished her song, she looked at Sullivan and they both shared a moment.

“That was beautiful,” Sullivan said. Sullivan then looked at everyone else in the room, “wasn’t that just beautiful?”

Anderson, a certified clinical musician, has played her harp for patients at South Shore Health System for the last two years. She picked up the instrument 17 years ago when she was just 12 years old. During her studies at Boston University, she melded her love of counseling with her passion for music and reached out to South Shore Hospital to see if she could bring her harp in to play for patients seeking care at the facility.

The Marshfield native, and now Weymouth resident, could think of no better place than to experiment with her new career path.

“This was my hospital,” Anderson said of South Shore. “Many of my loved ones have been cared for here. It’s really nice to be on the other side of that care, and it’s invaluable to know that in some small way I can give back to a community that has done so much for me.”

Anderson believes that music is a holistic way of caring for a patient. When she plays for patients in the NICU, she relies on monitors to see if a baby’s heart rate changes based on the style of music she plays. When she interacts with other patients, she asks them what they would like to hear or what mood they are in or even what symptoms they have to see if she can match music to the moment. 

“At the core of everything we are musical beings.We are really responsive to rhythms, and I see it time and time again when I play music for a patient. It’s kind of magical when you see them respond in a positive way to the music.

On this day, she connects with Sarah Sullivan of Marshfield, a patient on Emerson 5. Sullivan, by coincidence a fellow musician herself, invites Anderson in to play a few songs. Anderson straps her harp around her shoulder, checks her tune, and plays several melodies for Sullivan.

“It’s so important for people to realize that healthcare isn’t all about medicine and pain and everything else we normally associate it with,” she said. “We can take something so simple, like music, and use it for good. I was very cynical when I first thought about playing music for patients, but I’ve seen a patient eat who hasn’t eaten in days after hearing the harp.

“The harp is a vehicle of healing. It’s not me going in to a room and playing. It’s me being the messenger for the harp.”

See Nicole Anderson play for patients in the video below.