Renowned harpist soothes unsettled minds

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He’s talented enough to play 40 different instruments, but Michael Johnson is using one of the most calming instruments in the orchestra to soothe unsettled minds.

Playing the harp, the accomplished musician performs music as meditation at the Delmont Private Hospital for patients with mental health conditions and early stage dementia.

For patients with schizophrenia or a psychotic disorder, the harp can help quieten the voices in their heads.

At the psychiatric facility in Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs, up to 10 patients aged 65 and above gather as Mr Johnson leads them in one-hour meditation sessions.

“Pay attention to your feet,” he says. “If your feet are flat on the floor, you may feel the sound coming up your feet.”

The ancient instrument has been associated with healing since biblical times. Its vibrations give it a soft and calming quality.

“When you pluck a C, because it’s open-stringed and each string is its own note, unlike a cello or a violin where you have to fret the notes with your fingers, all the other Cs ring out of sympathy,” Mr Johnson explained.

It’s not only the patients at Delmont who benefit from Mr Johnson’s playing.

Peter Randell, the director of nursing and clinical services, said while it was sometimes difficult motivating patients to participate in activities, the music sessions were very popular.

“We see patients who are reluctant to get up and be involved in anything but when they know the music meditation is on, they are there,” Mr Randell said.

Mr Johnson played guitar and keyboard in a rock band before discovering the harp in the 1980s. “I just fell in love with it,” he said.

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