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Harps for healing

Harps for healing

WAYNESBORO, Pa. — It was around 2 a.m. and Lynda Kuckenbrod thought that her mother was comatose. Her mother was sick and had dementia, and Kuckenbrod was at her bedside playing a tiny harp.

“I stopped playing,” Kuckenbrod said. “She rolls over and goes, ‘Why’d you stop?’

Kuckenbrod noticed earlier in her mother’s illness that when medical staff would come to check her vitals, they were improved while her mother was soothed by music.

“They would come in to take her blood pressure. When I was playing, it was lower. I thought, ‘There is something to this,’ and I started looking into it,” Kuckenbrod said.

That was about 11 years ago. Today, Kuckenbrod, 63, of Waynesboro, Pa., not only utilizes the therapeutic benefits of music, but as owner of MoonShadow Harp & Sound Therapy, she shares them with others as well. She is a certified healthcare musician and director of therapy harp and lyre training programs, with an expanding list of specialities.

Health care musicians are different than music therapists, Kuckenbrod said, in that music therapists are required to complete at least four years of a rigorous training process, to receive board certification and to do interaction and goal-setting. Health care musicians, on the other hand, receive about two years of training and complete 40 hours of clinical work.

“Sometimes I only see (patients) once. I don’t actively engage them. Sometimes they are sleeping, sometime they are comatose. They don’t have to be awake. They can be in any condition and we can help with some healing,” she said.

Kuckenbrod works through contracts with facilities including hospitals, nursing homes and hospice programs.

“They will have me come in and play for a group, one on one at the bedside, whatever they want me to do. I go in on a regular basis, set up a monthly schedule,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Marching orders

Kuckenbrod was born in St. Louis and grew up outside of Camp Hill, Pa., near Harrisburg. She played violin, but when she changed schools, her new school had a band but not orchestra.

“It’s hard to march with a violin,” she joked.

Her sister who was five years her elder had a guitar in her room. Kuckenbrod would sneak in and teach herself how to play. When she was older, she spent many years playing Delta blues in bars and honky-tonks. Then she “got tired of being a performer and playing music in that way.”

As a child, she she’d seen a gilded concert harp at the home of her violin teacher, whose wife played the instrument, and for years she harbored a desire to play one. Finally, many years later, she decided to do so.

“I picked one up and I’ve been playing about 15 years now,” she said. “Stringed instruments come easy to me.”

Kuckenbrod was living in Huntingdon, Pa., and working as a workers’ compensation claim representative, a job she did for 30 years. She began doing healthcare music rather “unexpectedly, but happily, because of my passion and love for helping others. I just love sitting by the bedside and playing,” she said.

About four and a half years ago, she and her husband moved to Quincy Village in Waynesboro.

“I thought I would work on my music a little bit and see what happened and it all took off. It was a big surprise,” she said. “Before that, I was doing all this harp stuff on the side. You know, after work or whatever, I’d get phone calls, my hubby would meet me with a sandwich and a harp, and I’d be gone.”

Though she had planned on retirement, her “little bit” of work in healthcare music has become a 60-hour a week endeavor. 

“It keeps me off the streets,” Kuckenbrod said, laughing. “It’s a little bit wild. I’m extremely busy. Happily.”

Journey in healing

At one point along her musical journey, Kuckenbrod practiced vibro-acoustic harp therapy, which she described as “a musical massage.”

“You plug the harp into a bed or a chair and then you feel the vibration,” she said. “The vibration is meant to resonate with the tissues of the body, affecting physiological, mental, emotional and spiritual processes.”

She does less of that these days, instead providing healthcare musician services and training others to work in the field. During 2013, when Kuckenbrod launched her training program, she had five students sign up immediately.

“Within a month and a half, it went international,” she said. “It’s not only for harpists, it’s for anybody that plays an appropriate instrument at the bedside. You don’t want to bring your tuba.”

The program is one of four internationally, she said, and today she has trained hundreds of healthcare musicians from various continents via workbooks, videos, and online and video chats. She was compelled to create a curriculum because the one through which she learned had “something missing.”

“The body, mind experience, they had. What I found out as I went out, as things developed and played out, was that it was missing the spiritual. Being sick, dying, is an emotional and a spiritual thing,” she said. “Not necessarily religious, but spiritual.”

Kuckenbrod said people do not need to be great, technically skilled musicians to work effectively as health care musicians.

“You just need to know your instruments,” she said, “focus on what you’re doing, and do it with love, compassion and empathy.”

For more information, visit MoonShadow Harp and Sound Therapy or Therapy Harp Training Program on Facebook; call 717-387-3280; or go to MoonShadowHarp.com or therapyharp.com.

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