On a recent afternoon, I visited Laura Cole’s mellow apartment on the East Side of Providence just as it stopped raining. I listened to her playing her harp as the sun moved from behind a lingering cloud and illuminated the multicolored strings. She played a tune I did not recognize, but in which I found great comfort as I watched her hands lightly move down the strings like a sigh.
Cole, Jewish Collaborative Services’ development associate, is new to Rhode Island; the New Jersey native moved here after living in Florida. But she is not new to the soothing effects of harp therapy.
Cole has been playing the harp for 27 years. In 2004, she met Bedside Harp Founder and President Edie Elkan, which led her to embark on intense training at Bedside Harp, in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, to become a Hospital-Certified Master Harp Therapist.
“Hearing about the Harp Therapy Certification programs opened my eyes, and ears, to a potential career in health care,” Cole said. “Indeed, playing harp for patients and staff has been far more rewarding than anything else I have ever done.
“After several years of training and an intensive internship at the Valley Hospital, in Ridgewood, New Jersey, I received both my Hospital-Certified Harp Therapist and Hospital-Certified Master Harp Therapist certifications in 2007.”
A discipline that differs from a traditional music-therapy degree, Bedside Harp therapy takes special note of the environment in which one plays. The classes are closely monitored and progress is recorded and treated as a dress rehearsal for the real thing.
“Harp therapy is modules, books, papers, practicum projects, but most importantly the experience, the 120 hours to 240 hours of actually doing the harp therapy. It’s not just playing the harp, it’s also taking the notes of the surroundings: what you played, the disposition of the patient before you started, during and after.”
Under the moniker Cloud Nine Harp, Cole uses these skills to create a calm, welcoming atmosphere in hospitals, nursing homes, schools and other settings. She recently played for Kosher Senior Café regulars during a COVID-19-safe luncheon in Lippitt Park in Providence.
During performances, Cole uses various harp equipment, including a mobile harp that is worn around the shoulders, to connect sound and memory – which resonates with dementia patients in particular.
As part of her harp-therapy practice, she frequently learns new songs at the request of individuals, who are often inspired by her renditions to share their memories associated with the music.
Cole says that during her sessions she has met “all these great people who served in World War II or met in World War II.”
“I met this one couple who always asked for ‘Anchors Aweigh’ [by the Glenn Miller Orchestra] because this guy was in the Navy, and that was how he met his future wife,” she said. “The ship he was on blew up, he was one of the few to make it out, and he swam to shore, and that’s where he met his wife.”
In addition to bringing clouded memories back into light, Cole is making new memories for Rhode Islanders during the pandemic, bringing calming and healing music when it is sorely needed.
For more information on Laura Cole and Cloud Nine Harp, go to www.cloudnineharp.com; call 973-896-5129; or e-mail email@example.com .
HANNAH ALTMAN (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the content producer for the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.