News Column

Reading Eagle, Pa., John W. Smith column

June 1, 2013


June 01--Suppose you are a musician who has been asked to provide some comfort to your dying aunt, a faithful Christian. What song should you offer?

A."Amazing Grace." B."Jesus Loves Me." C."When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder." D. None of the above.

The correct answer, according to Betsy Chapman, a Certified Clinical Musician and therapeutic harpist, is D (with an asterisk).

Chapman, who lives west of Boyertown and works at Pottstown Memorial Medical Center and Caring Hospice, Lancaster, offered a delightful look into the healing power of music, especially the harp, at the final "Spirit on Tap" session of the season at the Crowne Plaza Reading, Wyomissing, Tuesday.

She explained that the theory is, you should not offer familiar music to the dying because it tends to bring them back, when you are trying to peacefully release them. But she admitted there are exceptions.

"I was playing for one woman, and her daughter kept saying her mother wanted to hear 'Amazing Grace,' but I kept putting her off, because of what I was taught," she said. "This went on for an hour, and I finally said, 'what the heck,' and played it. She died immediately; she was waiting for it before she'd go."

Chapman plays for other patients, of course. She said studies have proved harp music can lessen nausea, raise oxygen levels and stabilize blood pressure. "Jesus Loves Me" is good for Alzheimer's patients because of the memories it evokes. But, she complained, that may not work in the future because youngsters today are not taught it in many churches.

Other studies have shown that music can help those with autism who have trouble with hearing in the 40 hertz range. She said the harp is the best for healing, but the guitar, Native American instruments and lyre can be effective. Resonance is very important.

Chapman, also a professor at Ursinus College, is as good at public speaking as at playing the harp, displaying witty reaction to audience remarks.

She traced the history of music and healing from cave paintings in 15,000 B.C. through the chantings in ancient India, the diatonic scale of Pythagoras (when he wasn't studying hypotenuses), Apollo's being the Greek God of both music and medicine, the notes on a Roman tombstone from 200 B.C., the Celtic bards and, of course, David's comforting Saul.

She offered examples of the three types of bard music -- happy, crying and sleeping -- the last one being the Welsh "Ar Hyd Y Nos" ("All Through the Night"). The only criticism of her presentation: She didn't perform a few more examples of her talent.

For her own relaxation, she practices tai chi, which she took up at her Zen teacher's suggestion when she fell asleep during a session.

In answer to an obvious question, she said she once was mistaken for an angel when she showed up with her harp.

"The guy seemed so happy to see me that I had to tell him I was sorry he wasn't dead yet," she said. "Now I no longer wear white."

Contact John W. Smith: 610-371-5007 or


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