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Salve for the soul: Jones' harp soothes the suffering

How do you comfort a loved one when death is hanging heavy in the room? Words are inadequate, and a gentle touch seems too little too late. When the father of Dr. Ted Jones, associate professor of mass communication, was near the end of his life, suffering from Alzheimers, Jones wanted to ease him through what lay ahead.
How do you comfort a loved one when death is hanging heavy in the room? Words are inadequate, and a gentle touch seems too little too late. When the father of Dr. Ted Jones, associate professor of mass communication, was near the end of his life, suffering from Alzheimer's, Jones wanted to ease him through what lay ahead.

“I played the harp for Dad,” Jones says. “I sat by his hospital bed and played music I hoped would make his transition easier. When the nurse called after he died, she said his passing had been the most peaceful she'd ever seen. I like to think the harp paved the way for that.”

Hocus-pocus? Don't be too fast to dismiss the healing power of music. Most medical doctors don't. They know they can treat the body, but not the spirit.

Medicinal music has a long history. It dates back to the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome, when sickness—of mind or body—was viewed as a manifestation that the soul was out of sync with the Universe.

While imprisoned, the philosopher Socrates found solace in playing his harp. The father of medicine, Hippocrates, is said to have taken his mental patients to a temple so they could listen to music. Medieval minstrels played for patients to hasten their recovery. And in the 19th century, an institution for the mentally ill in Naples, Italy, used music “to sooth the savage beast.”

Harp therapy is having a resurgence in our culture. And Ted Jones is positioning himself to be among the first hospital-certified practitioners in America.

Two years ago, Jones took a small harp with him when he went on a spiritual retreat in the mountains of North Carolina. Sitting outdoors among fellow pilgrims, he began to pluck its strings.

“In that quiet place, the music just came out of me,” he says. “Improvised pieces that quieted the crowd and left everyone in silent reverie. “

According to Jones, it was a profound experience, not just for him but also for those listening to the sounds of the harp. Within a grove of ancient white oaks in a meditative setting, his music became a conduit to self-revelation and healing.

When Jones returned to his classes at APSU, he wanted to preserve the peaceful feelings he had while in the Carolina mountains, so he began to play occasionally in the Larsen Gallery of Harned Hall. Neal Maynard, a student and a musician with a home-recording studio, heard Jones playing and offered to record the music using a portable “studio.”

“Neal just showed up one day,” Jones says. “We recorded the pieces quickly—right here in the office. No editing. Every note I played is there. He transferred the improvised pieces to a CD and mocked up some graphics and a title. From Neal's idea, I later came up with the song titles and text, and a friend designed the graphics and layout.”

Recalling the impact of his music on people at the retreat and elsewhere, Jones focused on finding something meaningful to do with the music and the CD. “I wanted my music to open up a healing space for others,” he says.

He began researching harp therapy and last summer learned about a new program, called Bedside Harp, offered through the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Rahway, N.J. After meeting the program's founder, he was convinced this was the means for him to learn and develop techniques for healing with the harp.

He auditioned for the program, using the CD recorded in his office, and was accepted into the Bedside Harp program for Summer 2004. Unlike other harp-therapy programs, Bedside Harp uses a three-pronged approach. To earn certification, Jones must:

•Play the harp a total of 160 hours for patients, staff and visitors in various hospital units, such as patients' rooms, the intensive care unit, surgery and hospice;

•Teach harp to small groups of people so they can work as harp-therapy volunteers; and

•Conduct research on a particular aspect of harp therapy.

With a Ph.D. in media effects, Jones has worked with renowned researchers in the field.
One of their studies looked at the potential effects of types of videotaped programs on pain. They discussed doing research on the effects of music on pain. Although they didn't pursue it, the idea stayed with Jones.

It's likely that Jones' research during Summer 2004 will combine his two fields of studymusic education and communication. Though harp-therapy research has been conducted for several years, examining the harp as a communication medium is a new idea. As far as Jones knows, his research this summer could break new ground in this arena.

Jones' two disciplines have been linked together throughout his life. As a young boy, he attended concerts, always hoping a harpist would be part of the program. As a young adult, he earned a bachelor's degree in music education from Florida State University, a master's degree in communication arts from APSU and a Ph.D. from the University of Alabama.

After completing his bachelor's degree, Jones was accepted for studies at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, the school that produced such legends as Kirk Douglas and Robert Redford. Jones moved to New York in 1973 and was a resident until 1984.

Although he never saw his name in Broadway lights, he was living in the Big Apple when he had a chance to buy a second-hand student harp from a friend. Afterwards, with a little help from a woman studying harp at The Juilliard School of Music, Jones taught himself to play--little knowing his love of the harp would evolve into more than an expensive avocation. “The harp has been a big part in my spiritual journey,” he says.

Recently, an APSU alumna, Roberta Richardson ('69), Memphis, who works in the digital-media industry, helped Jones produce the CD “Crystal Reflections” from his original harp pieces. The proceeds from the sale of the CD will be used to buy a portable therapy harp with strap, which is needed for the certification program.

His decision to incorporate harp therapy into his already busy life has been validated many timesfrom his own experience with his dying father to the positive feedback from others. On Feb. 11, Judi Sinks, the principal of Cumberland Heights Elementary School, sent him e-mail:

“ Ted, something wonderful happened today. I took your CD to my office to play. This morning, a child with … autism just went off. When he blows, he can be violent …They called me … and I was able to get him to my office. I started playing your CD, and within moments he was calm again. It was amazing to watch …

“Your CD has given me another avenue to address the needs of my students! So … I need another CD for school, and I want to give one … to a friend who is going through a hard time. You truly have created a wonderful piece of art.”

(“Crystal Reflections,” a collection of eight improvised harp meditations, is available for purchase. The cost is $10, including shipping and handling. If you want to buy “Crystal Reflections” for yourself or a friend, telephone Jones at 7277 or e-mail him at jonest@apsu.edu)
—Dennie Burke