Angi Bemiss says she always wanted to learn to read Latin and play the harp, so for their 10th wedding anniversary, her husband bought her a harp and some lessons. She jokes, “Latin would have been easier!”
That was more than a decade ago. Bemiss now plays harp twice a week at Northside Hospital’s Atlanta campus on Johnson Ferry Road as part of the hospital’s Healing Sounds Program. Though she works as an accountant by day, she said music always has been a big part of her life—and she wishes her consulting clients were as happy to see her as the nurses, staff and patients at the hospital.
“What she does for the patients is extraordinary,” said Carol Kratochvil, the manager of volunteer services at Northside Hospital’s Atlanta campus. “What I think is particularly special is that she is literally on call, and nurses will ask if she is in town. If she is, she will stop what she is doing and come be with the patient and family.”
Bemiss plays to help patients and their families heal. “People say ‘it’s so soothing’ or ‘relaxing,’ and I say ‘I’m glad. It works for me too,’ because the harp is an almost magical instrument,” Bemiss said.
Through the Healing Sounds Program, Bemiss plays in every hospital department from pre-op to recovery, and from the special care nurseries to the Intensive Care Unit. The harp music isn’t always sad or somber, Kratochvil said.
“One day a bride and groom came to visit a patient so she started playing ‘Here Comes the Bride,’ so it was a delightful experience, not all sad,” Kratochvil said. “She’s all about making a difference in people’s lives.”
As a piano player for her church, she began arranging for harp so she could incorporate it into the music played during church services, she said. Then, she said she starting publishing her harp arrangements. She now has about 500.
“It all came about because the music I wanted to play wasn’t available, so I started arranging it,” Bemiss said. “I knew I wanted to play in a hospital environment; intuitively I knew that.”
Kratochvil, who oversees the Auxiliary and Healing Sounds Program, said she has watched the auxiliary grow to about 300 active members. A volunteer pianist plays in the lobby. Groups such as Tom Ludwig’s Beethoven Chamber Orchestra, composed entirely of high school students, perform.
Bemiss keeps the harp at the hospital rather than lugging it back and forth from home. She is the only paid member of the auxiliary program. “I started taking pay because people want to do this as a profession, and if I didn’t take pay it would set a precedent,” she said.
She uses the money she earns playing harp to produce CDs, which she gives away to patients. Kratochvil said the CDs also are sold through the hospital gift store. Proceeds of the sales are used to pay Bemiss. “Angi is unique in her paid position, but she gives us back CDs, which we sell to reimburse ourselves for her expenses,” Kratochvil said.
The intent of the Music for Healing and Transition Program is teaching musicians bedside deportment, and about medical equipment and what types of music to play in different settings, Bemiss said.
“I’ve played for patients as they’ve actually died. I have been trained to play at the bedside in patients’ rooms, in medical areas and in transitional environments such as a hospice,” she said.
A certified music practitioner plays differently depending on the audience, she said. Her listeners range from newborn babies to people convalescing to people who are dying, she said.
Some favorite comments that Bemiss said she’s heard from patients, their visitors and the staff include, “This patient’s monitors show the effect of your music,” and, “I felt the music before I realized that I was hearing it.”