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Harp music program strikes a chord with St. Albert hospice, long-term care patients


The residents of a St. Albert hospice and long-term care facility have found the same solace in harp music the ancient Greeks did.

"Oh, it's a great thing for the people here," Foyer Lacombe palliative care resident Paul Korolauk told CTV News Edmonton in a recent interview.

"It can get – there's not much to do here," he added. "So they're fulfilling a great function for, especially, the folks that have been in here a long time. It's nice. It's nice to have them here."

LuAnne Sirdiak, chair of the St. Albert Sturgeon Hospice Association (SASHA), a volunteer organization that supports people at the end of their life and their caregivers, told CTV News Edmonton it had been a goal for a long time to bring some kind of music therapy to Foyer Lacombe.

Then this spring, she met Cheryl Dalmer, a certified therapeutic harp practitioner through the International Harp Therapy program.

"[I] was so taken with the music and the history of the harp and what it can do for people," Sirdiak recalled.

"The music is just beautiful. And it resonates within you. There's a long history … about the healing properties of the harp and the vibrations that it delivers to the listener."

Dalmer's program differentiated harp therapy from music therapy in that the former does not strive for a specific health outcome. She was taught to play in ways that can lower heart or breathing rates, such as choosing a matching tempo or tone.

Cheryl Dalmer, a certified therapeutic harp practitioner through the International Harp Therapy program, plays for long-term care residents at Foyer Lacombe in St. Albert on Sept. 23, 2023. (CTV News Edmonton / John Hanson)

Dalmer plays in three facilities in the Edmonton area in both group and private settings.

Often, she says, her music will draw out patients' loved ones and facility staff.

"It gives them a place to rest. They can sit back and just be in that moment in this – what we call – cradle of sound that we've created in the room. And just take a breath," the harpist told CTV News Edmonton.

"Often, it's very obvious. You'll [hear] a lot of sighing. It's like that weight has been lifted. Of course, tears."

Although the program is still new – funded by an anonymous private donor – Sirdiak said SASHA has received overwhelmingly positive feedback.

One person told SASHA the harp music was soothing and calming. Several said it was a nice change to the routine. Another person called it "therapeutic at a cellular level" and "a feast for the senses." Sirdiak also received a message that, "It brought light to what was dark. It was heart opening."

Korolauk, a lifelong music lover, compared the harp to a religious experience.

Foyer Lacombe palliative care resident Paul Korolauk talks to CTV News Edmonton on Sept. 23, 2023, about a harp therapy program that the St. Albert facility had begun to offer. (CTV News Edmonton/ John Hanson)

"If you're a person of faith, it just adds to it so much. You know faith is not a big thing in a person's life until you get to the stage that I'm at – and then it becomes very important."

Which is why Dalmer does.

"I'm not afraid of death. I don't see it as a frightening thing. I know, though, there are some people in the rooms who are terrified, who are already grieving, who are confused. But facilities like this hospice and the other hospices I've worked at… this is the way it should be."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's John Hanson Top Stories

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