Nancy Kleiman is one of the many healers at Brigham and Women's Hospital, but not the kind with a medical degree.
Kleiman's job is to play the harp. Every day, she moves around Brigham's hallways, lobbies, and patient rooms, her fingers on the strings of her instrument — a 35-pound, 30-string Celtic harp. Her ethereal melodies are a welcome distraction for patients and their families as many cope with difficult illnesses.
"The harp is the universal language," said Kleiman, 65. "Nothing has to be said. Everybody gets it."
Kleiman, with the help of a video, taught herself to play harp when she turned 50. And while she plays for a big audience — 26,000 people visit Brigham every day — she doesn't consider herself a professional harpist.
Rather, Kleiman says, this is her calling: "I'm taking the love and energy around me and expressing it through harp music."
Kleiman, a former teacher, is semiretired now, roaming the hospital with her harp 20 hours a week. Sometimes she starts in the lobby, the sound of her instrument radiating through the din of people coming and going. Then she goes where she feels she's needed, comforting elderly patients living their final days or helping newborns begin their lives.
"Somebody whispers in my ear, 'My mother's dying on the 15th floor,' or a nurse says, 'We need you in labor and delivery,' " Kleiman said. "I never once had to wonder where I'm going next. It's always serendipitous."
Often, passers-by are surprised to see the music is from a live performance and not from a CD. They smile, wink, or thank her for the soothing tunes.
Patricia Reilly, Brigham's director of caring and healing modalities, said the music brings some calm to what can otherwise be an anxiety-provoking and overwhelming place.
"Nancy's music has the ability to comfort our patients, in a way that traditional medicine cannot," she said.
Indeed, Kleiman said, "The stress of this environment is what brings out the beauty of the harp."
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