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Practitioners heal — with music

Upcoming concerts benefit Music Partners in Healthcare
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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On a recent afternoon, a quiet hospital room came to life with the soothing sounds of a harp.

Musician Jean Ann Walth strummed for patient Scott Hamilton, as he lay in bed at Sutter Roseville Medical Center. As with most visits, Walth entered the room knowing little about the patient's condition, focused only on using her music to help him heal.

"Playing for patients is about being really present in the moment, and playing so they can have some peace and calm," Walth said.

For those who are terminally ill, she uses the harp to cradle the patient in sound. She'll also play in the hospital chapel for families upset over the illness of a loved one and seeking answers.

Walth is a Certified Music Practitioner and a member of Music Partners in Healthcare, a nonprofit organization that places trained musicians in hospitals throughout the Sacramento region. These musicians attempt to ease pain, high blood pressure, respiratory distress, anxiety, confusion and other critical conditions among patients of all ages.

"Jean Ann's work is greatly appreciated here at the hospital," said Sutter Roseville's Director of Chaplain Services Gerald Jones. "She helps agitated patients calm down to a more peaceful place and helps patients dealing with life-threatening illness escape their troubles through music. ... She brings a calming presence to the critical care units and helps staff relax for a moment during stressful days."

The Rocklin-based RSVP Choir is presenting a four-part concert series, beginning April 20, to benefit this group. The Sacramento Children's Chorus will also perform.

"Our mission is bringing people together through the arts and giving back to the community," said RSVP Artistic Director Julie Adams. "We're especially happy to be supporting Music Partners in Healthcare. These inspiring concerts are a way (to) directly support other musicians who create a healing environment for those in need."

Certified Music Practitioner Elizabeth Wendt is a member of Music Partners in Healthcare and said her organization is entirely funded through donations. She co-founded the group in 2008 to encourage musicians to become certified and work with hospitals to address patients' needs. These musicians now play at six local facilities and the organization is negotiating with four other medical centers, Wendt said.

Wendt has been a musician much of her life, and a performer most of her adult life - but one day she realized something was missing.

"I found I wanted to use music in a more meaningful way that was more connecting to the human spirit ... it was like I finally found what I wanted to do when I grew up," she said. "It's human-to-human connection. It's soul-to-soul."

She enrolled in a national training program that involved classes and an internship, earning her certification in 2007. She now plays the harp twice a week in local hospitals.

"The program teaches musicians to use elements of music to help people heal," Wendt said.

It is the job of Certified Music Practitioners to observe breathing, face color and stress levels to assess a patient's needs and adjust accordingly. Most of these musicians are harpists, pianists, vocalists and guitarists.

"Probably trumpets wouldn't work well," Wendt said.

Her organization seeks new musicians - but they must be certified because music is a powerful tool, she said, and can unintentionally cause harm.

Walth plays twice weekly at Sutter Roseville Medical Center. She's the only bedside harpist there and they hope to get more soon. She comes from a piano performance background and learned the harp about 10 years ago for her own pleasure. She said music is crucial in the hospital environment, which is full of weird sounds and scary concerns of what's going to happen.

"Music is the medicine that doesn't poke you, doesn't hurt you, that fills you with good," Walth said.

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.

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RSVP presents Life Songs

What: Concert series to benefit Music Partners in Healthcare, with special guests Sacramento Children's Chorus

When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, April 20-21 and April 27-28

Where: April 20 show at Granite Springs Church, 1170 E. Joiner Parkway in Lincoln; April 21 show at Temple Or Rishon, 7755 Hazel Ave. in Orangevale; April 27 and April 28 shows at St. John's Lutheran Church, 1701 L St. in Sacramento.

Cost: Free, donations accepted

Info: Call (916) 624-9419 or visit www.rsvpchoir.org