Hospital harpist offers emotional healing

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His heart was heavy when he brought his father to the doors of the hospital, seeking a second opinion on his 70-year-old dad’s newfound cancer.

On the other side of the Utah Valley Regional Medical Center doors, the soothing sound of live harp music met BYU professor Richard Holzapfel’s ears. This surprising sound allowed him to relax.

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Jenna Faulkner plays at the Utah Valley Regional Medical Center on a Tuesday afternoon. (Photo by Ryan Faulkner)

Jenna Faulkner, a BYU student and harpist, played in the Utah Valley Regional Medical Center lobby that day. She volunteers, playing there twice a week, through the hospital’s harp program.

“It is a gratifying experience to see people visibly relax and take a deep breath upon entering the doors of the hospital and hearing the music,” said Caroline Kreutzkamp, UVRMC Harp Program organizer. “This changes the whole tone of their experience.”

Holzapfel described Faulkner’s voluntary efforts as an unexpected blessing that contributes to healing.

“You go to the hospital to get help,” Holzapfel said. “Doctors, nurses and technicians do that. But here’s another way to be healed. It’s an emotional and spiritual healing. She contributes in her way to another side of healing that is not as tangible.”

Holzapfel noted that although Faulkner is still a student at BYU, she is already representing BYU’s motto well: “Enter to Learn —  Go Forth to Serve.” He felt blessed as a recipient of this service. Although his father is a tough, “hardworking, straight-shooting” former military man, the news of his cancer cracked that shell, proving a hard cross to bear for all involved.

“It’s a pretty tough deal,” Holzapfel said, pausing to stabilize his emotions. “It’s just nice to know that someone cared. That human contact — she (Faulkner) didn’t know these people, and she’ll probably never see them again. But she made the choice to share her talent.”

Faulkner said she often feels like no one listens to her as she plays at the hospital; but then someone will come up behind her and express gratitude for hearing her from around the corner or down the hall. This helps Faulkner realize the breadth of her influence and heightens her environmental awareness.

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Faulkner plays at the UVRMC twice a week, providing emotional relief for patients and visitors. (Photo by Ryan Faulkner)

“I interpret my surroundings and play accordingly to enhance different feelings or emotions that would aid any given situation,” Faulkner said. “My favorite thing to do is play for the little kids.”

Faulkner said stressed parents waiting for cancer treatment sometimes bring restless kids. Faulkner pulls out Disney songs or fast-paced pieces to capture children’s attention and calm them down.

Faulkner has played the harp since age 8. She said she grew up playing the instrument, “mostly motivated by the money in playing harp gigs.” However, with her current volunteer harp position at UVRMC as well as in experiences past, Faulkner finds value in using her talent to help others emotionally heal.

Once, a man asked that Faulkner perform during a Valentine’s dinner for a woman he deeply cared for. The woman was dying from cancer and several surgery complications. Faulkner said he spent so much energy and time organizing this special dinner for her, and Faulkner was to play for a few hours afterwards. The week before she was supposed to play, he called, saying it was an emergency. He requested that she come play immediately.

“I ran home, changed, quite literally threw my harp in the car and drove to her house,” Faulkner said.

She played for about two hours, seated by the woman’s bed with surrounding family members. Faulkner learned later that the woman died shortly after she left. She played the harp at the woman’s viewing and funeral. Faulkner described her time helping this family grieve as a privilege.

“It was the first time where I felt that the spirit of God was so tangible,” Faulkner said. “As I played, I felt engulfed by the love and approval of her spirit, those who loved her and Heavenly Father. It was at that time that I’ve played better than I ever have. I don’t think I made a single mistake. I realized how real life is. I realized how real pain and suffering is.”

Faulkner remembers this experience as she continually volunteers her time and talent to serve others.

“I try to play with the delicacy and passion I learned when I played for that woman who died,” Faulkner said. “I never know who’s listening or who needs to be uplifted. I play for the people who are engaged in my music and for the people who don’t even realize they are listening.”

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