CHAMPAIGN — Sometimes sick kids and their families need more than modern medicine can provide: They need relief from the stress of being in the hospital.
And for stress relief, some say there's nothing like the calming notes of harps.
Champaign harp teacher Leila Ramagopal and some of her young harp students brought their music to the patients and families on Carle Foundation Hospital's pediatric's floor Wednesday. It was the third time the Healing Harps ensemble — first launched at Next Generation School — has performed for the hospital's sick kids, Carle child life specialist Doey Gordon said.
"It's amazing," Gordon said. "It's incredibly soothing for them. It's so calming. It kind of melts their stress away a little bit."
There's more than a little bit of stress going on for those young patients and their families.
"If they're brought to the hospital and they're staying overnight, it's an acute illness or injury that they're here for," she said. "Our hospital is for serious things that are going on."
Ramagopal is the former music director at Next Generation, a private school in Champaign for babies through eighth-graders, and her harp ensemble grew out of an after-school harp program, she said. She now teaches private music lessons in her home, but some of the Next Generation students remain in her harp ensemble for kids and teens.
Ramagopal said listening to music engages the whole brain, and harp music seems to draw an immediate emotional and physiological response of captivation and calm.
"What we find when people are listening to harp music is their breathing rate slows down, and there is increased focus and also heightened awareness," she said.
Does it matter what piece of music is being played? Not really, Ramagopal said.
She used to play the harp for students at Next Generation when she taught there and was amazed at how students would respond. It's more timbre and resonance of the instrument than selection of music, she said.
The effect seems to be equal on children and adults alike.
Her own dog is drawn to the harp when she plays, she said.
"Honestly, he will come and sit right by the base of the harp, right where the sound comes out," she added.
Taking child harpists to play at the hospital is also a valuable part of their learning experience, Ramagopal said.
"We're learning to give this music, not just play it, not just excel," she said. "We're learning that music is one of those things that binds us together as human beings."
Next Generation has also been donating artwork done by its students to brighten up some areas of the hospital pediatrics unit since 2009 and sent a basket of donated art supplies with money raised from a Valentine's Day bake sale.