On a recent weekday morning in the surgery waiting area at Inova Loudoun Hospital, live harp music was drifting over from the hospital’s main corridor. Several people, huddled with family members, talked in low tones. Some watched a televised children’s program or looked at their smartphones, while others sat quietly, listening to the music.
The harpist was Barb Guagliardi, one of several volunteers who play music to comfort patients, their friends and family members, and the hospital staff members who pass through the atrium.
With graceful sweeps of her hands, Guagliardi played songs that were soft, serene and vaguely familiar. Some sounded like Celtic folk music; others seemed more like hymns. Guagliardi calls it “healing music.”
“I don’t feel I’m there to perform,” Guagliardi said. “And if you’re playing music that everybody knows, it kind of makes it a performance and separates you from people.
“I’m playing music that they can just kind of get drawn into,” she said. “They don’t necessarily know it, and yet it can really reach them emotionally.”
The musicians play in the hospital’s atrium, near where people wait for friends and family members who are undergoing surgery.
“That’s so incredibly stressful,” said Karen Archer, the hospital’s radiation oncology social worker. “And the music is such a stress buster for them. You can see, they look more relaxed because they can listen to the music.”
Carol Guerin, who recently moved to Leesburg, was reading a paperback in the waiting area while her son was in surgery. It was her first visit to the hospital, and she was surprised to hear live music.
“It’s wonderful,” she said. “It’s very relaxing.”
Guagliardi, of Lansdowne, said she began playing the harp about eight years ago after seeing a documentary about healing harps.
“I had no idea if I was going to be any good at it or not, but I did it for the sole reason that I wanted to play for people as a healing musician,” she said.
Soon after moving to Lansdowne about three years ago, she contacted Joan Reif, the hospital’s manager of volunteer services, and offered her services as a musician.
Reif said that volunteer musicians had come and gone, but the music program was dormant when Guagliardi approached her. Since then, four other musicians, all pianists, have joined Guagliardi to play calming music on a regular schedule. Reif said that Guagliardi serves as the team leader and screens prospective volunteers to make sure the music they play is appropriate for the hospital.
“We’re a hospital. It’s not that you’re playing at the library or school. We have such a special population that Barb has been very good in being able to convey our population and their needs to our new musical therapy folks to make sure that they play the right type of music, that it’s soothing, that it’s comforting,” Reif said.
Guagliardi also plays for a group that meets monthly at the hospital’s radiation oncology center for Reiki treatments. Reiki is an alternative healing practice that originated in Japan, in which practitioners place their hands on patients to transfer energy and promote self-healing and equilibrium. Inova Loudoun Hospital offers the Reiki sessions to cancer patients and their caregivers, hospital officials said.
When Reif learned that Guagliardi was trained as a Reiki practitioner, she contacted Archer, who works with cancer patients in the radiation oncology center. Archer said that she “got the best feeling” in talking with Guagliardi and that she knew her music would enhance the Reiki sessions.
“Not only is it the music — it’s beautiful, it’s healing — but there’s a vibration,” Archer said. “And this is all about energy.” The harp “puts out a vibration that people kind of absorb when they’re here for the Reiki. I think that is a benefit in itself.”
Rhema Crowley, 63, of Hamilton, has been attending the Reiki sessions for about six months. Crowley, who is recovering from ovarian cancer, said CD music was playing in the background during her first two sessions.
“About the third time that I came, here was this harpist, and I was just blown away,” Crowley said. “She is fabulous. And having live music, and live harp music, adds a whole . . . dimension to the energy in the room.
“It’s so soothing, it’s so relaxing and it’s, oh my goodness, the music of the spheres,” Crowley said. “She’s a fabulous harp player, and it’s just such a treat. It’s kind of like going to the symphony for free.”
Musicians who would like to volunteer to play healing music at the hospital can call Joan Reif at 703-858-6468.