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VIDEO: Soothing sounds of harp calm busy Penticton hospital

Debi Johnson said the sounds of her harp has a calming effect on both patients and staff
Summerland resident Debi Johnson calms a busy Penticton Regional Hospital with the soothing sounds of her harp on Wednesday, Jan. 4. (Monique Tamminga Western News)

It’s a busy day at Penticton Regional Hospital, with patients, visitors, doctors and nurses moving about in the lobby on Wednesday, Jan. 4.

In the background, among the hustle and bustle of the lab, imaging department and intake, the soothing sounds of a harp can be heard.

Near the entrance doors and by the gift shop is Summerland resident Debi Johnson plucking the strings on her harp.

A couple of paramedics take a break from their busy schedule to take in the calm sounds as Johnson plays Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

She says good morning to a man who has slowed to take in the music.

“It’s a beautiful morning now,” the man responds.

“Going to the hospital can be stressful,” Johnson said. “If I can bring people a bit of calm with my music that is what makes it so meaningful. This is music therapy and I’m so happy to play here.”

The music therapist plays her harp in the lobby for about 1.5 hours every second week. She tries to pick a busy time of day to bring her soothing sounds to the lobby.

“The music is as much for the patients as it is for the staff,” she said.

Johnson said she’s seen the impact her harp has. People come to the hospital for health reasons and there can be a lot of stress involved, but when the harp’s sounds arrive in that lobby she sees people’s shoulders relax, their demeanor changes.

She remembers a time when a man came on a stretcher and he was very agitated. But once he heard the sounds of the harp playing, he calmed right down.

When children come around, she’ll switch to playing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. She said that unlike adults who admire the music from a distance, children want to get right in there. She loves that part. She’s even had requests from teenagers to play Metallica or AC/DC.

“I did find how to play a Metallica song so I might just surprise them yet,” she said.

Seeing the calm her music brings to the hospital is the biggest reward.

“I love being here,” said Johnson who has been playing her harp at the hospital even through COVID. She also plays at seniors’ homes in Summerland.

She is a big believer in bringing the music to the people rather than them having to come to the music.

“Be where people are and make that difference, that makes my work so meaningful,” said Johnson.

READ MORE: Okanagan Symphony Orchestra in Penticton Jan. 21

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Monique Tamminga

About the Author: Monique Tamminga

Monique brings 20 years of award-winning journalism experience to the role of editor at the Penticton Western News. Of those years, 17 were spent working as a senior reporter and acting editor with the Langley Advance Times.
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