By day, Carla Siegesmund crunches numbers at a Dallas oil company. By night, she plucks the strings of her harp at hospices and nursing homes around the city.
Since 2005, the fifty-something has sought to bring healing and peace to patients at their bedside through familiar songs and hymns.
“There’s so much anxiety and stress there, the harp music really calms the room,” Siegesmund said.
Siegesmund began her ministry when she heard a man at her church, Northway Christian, had terminal cancer. She wanted to do something to make him feel better, so she brought her harp over to his house and began to play.
“When I play for people, I want to bless them, but we had such a fellowship when I was at their house that when I’d drive away I almost felt guilty, because here I am, receiving their blessings,” she said.
From there, Siegesmund began volunteering at a local hospice and at nursing homes. She plays about 30–40 minutes of music, always ending with “Amazing Grace,” which she says is one of the most powerful hymns to play. For her, playing the harp in these settings isn’t a performance; it’s a chance for patients to lie back and relax with meditative folk tunes and hymns.
She’s since played a 30th anniversary vow-renewal ceremony for a man with lung cancer at his house, for cancer patients in the ICU, and at a dialysis center, where her father receives treatment. After she played at the dialysis center for 15 people, her dad told her he was surprised by the color of the status indicators, which measure how effective each treatment is.
“My dad said ‘I don’t know if you noticed, but I was amazed to see that all the lights were green. They’re never all green. Usually they’re red or yellow.’ I felt really grateful that I was able to have people relax enough that they could have an easy treatment,” Siegesmund said.
Siegesmund, who’s trained in therapeutic harp music, said it’s something about the vibrations of the instrument that bring healing and ease stress and anxiety.
She names many examples: an arthritic Austrian woman who relaxes and “gets the most tender look in her eye” when Siegesmund plays “Edelweiss”; a man in hospice care in the video below, who sang along to the hymn “Old Rugged Cross”; and a man who hadn’t been breathing well and had been unresponsive for days. His relatives told Siegesmund that his favorite song was “Jesus Loves Me,” so she began playing it. He became alert and started singing. His family gathered around him, and he began praying.
“He was on the 11th hour list, and had such a surge there,” she said. “He and his wife had another few days before he went back into his final days. That was a really good visit, one I’ll always remember. It’s a really spiritual experience for me too, seeing someone respond so much to hymns.”
Siegesmund said she herself also feels the soothing—and spiritual—effects of the harp.
“I feel like my soul is soaring when I play,” she said. “I get such a sense of peace and I have a connection at times with the spirit, I feel like the spirit’s leading me. It’s like a prayer, especially more so when I play the hymns.”
She said she feels closest to God when she plays, resting the harp against her breastbone and playing hymns—which she finds meaningful—particularly with the many references to the harp in the Bible and the songs of praise in the Psalms.
“I just feel like I’m the channel, and God is channeling the beauty of music through me,” she said.