Sweet, soothing harp music delights and heals audience

By on June 1, 2004

Usually when the parishioners of St. James church come to hear the story of Jesus at their medieval-looking stone church in the heart of this Annapolis Valley town, there is an organ and choir to carry the words home: a familiar comfort to many.

But Huntsville, Ont., poet Mel Malton, Celtic folk harp duo Ardyth Robinson and Jennifer Wyatt brought the story alive in a whole new way recently.

Ms. Malton’s poetic affirmations of an untamed Jesus “meek and mild? – not unless ice is fire,” extended into an embrace of dark and light in all of nature.

Her deep, calm voice, placid face, hair falling simply in a single braid, ran perfectly counterpoint to the falling starlight let loose by Ms. Robinson and Ms. Wyatt in scarlet dresses.

Ms. Wyatt played an ad-lib accompaniment during a poem called Jesus Meets A Parable:

“They follow you like hungry children squalling for/

that holy bread they heard about;/

they wolf it down, but only/

one in ten connects the healing/

with the One who heals.”

Afterward, Ms. Malton said, “I found the connection of words and music enhanced my own understanding of the poem, gave it a clarity it wouldn’t have had, just spoken.”

Harp music “is one of the most healing sounds in the world,” added the poet (who is also an illustrator whose cartoons are featured in Anglican Journal’s letters pages). “When you couple it with two fabulous singers, I think it’s almost guaranteed to be transformative.

“Adding in the kind of spoken word stuff that I hope, led the audience to think about spiritual matters, maybe in new ways, made the combination really special.”

Funding for the event was provided by the Segelberg Trust, established in 1984 by Rev. Eric Segelberg to assist academic studies and research, as well as to promote education and the Christian religion.

Ms. Robinson, of Kentville, N.S., and Ms. Wyatt, of Fredericton, sang and played guitar together from their days together at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B.

They did not start playing the harp together until motherhood found them.

Then, musical playdates seemed a natural and agreeable arrangement: the children played, the mothers played harp.

The sweet, soothing melodies were not just a hit with the children, but have delighted many of their other audiences since.

Three CDs later, and oft compared to angels (Ms. Wyatt wishes she had a quarter for each time), they have continued to expand their unique sound with prolific quantities of original material.

“We sometimes fight the image that harps are peaceful and angelic because we think they don’t just belong at churches or in the background. It is true that they fit the quiet, meditative bill very well, but they can also jam with other musicians, or play in busy pubs. And where do people need to slow down more than out in the busy world?” asks Ms. Wyatt.

They are not surprised when concert-goers tell them their music is healing.

Healing, says Ms. Robinson, takes love, and music is a great way to love people: “there is so much power … to touch and heal people … and we all do need so much healing.”

“We love playing music together,” says Ms. Wyatt, “and we love to make people laugh, or sing along, but when we are able to touch people’s souls, that’s something altogether special and rare. There is too much chaos and trouble in the world today, and not enough simplicity, silence, calm.”

Anna-Maria Galante is a freelance journalist and member of St. James church, Kentville, N.S.

Jesus Meets a Parable

(Mark 7: 24 – 30)

Mel Malton

There is a lesson you’ve been teaching them

for almost three years now, so patiently –

your every blessed word and gesture hung upon,

your pedagogical resources mined almost

to nothing.

They follow you like hungry children squalling for

that holy bread they heard about;

they wolf it down, but only

one in ten connects the healing

with the One who heals.

They simply cannot grasp the deeper meaning –

merely dazzled by the multiplying loaves and frightened

silly by your momentary domination of a wave or two.

And yesternight at supper, when

that clutch of Pharisees barged in

to point accusing fingers at your unwashed hands,

you called them hypocrites, then later

lost your temper with your friends

still asking how you fed the multitude and

what on earth you meant by it.

You hope your father won’t begrudge a

weekend getaway in Tyre, alone –

for metaphorical replenishment of inner candles.

So, you slip away across the border to a sleepy suburb

in the foreign bosom of a pagan god,

and book into a little place where your celebrity

can twinkle quietly beneath a bushel.

There, she finds you.

Never mind the private sign upon the door.

She’s veiled, of course,

according to the custom of the place,

and all you see are weary, shadowed eyes

like those of that thin cur who barked outside just now.

She says her daughter has a demon –

(here’s another one who wants a piece of you.)

You tell her it’s not fair

to throw the children’s bread to dogs.

(You can’t believe you said this, but you did.)

Her eyes are mirrors;

you can see your tiny face reflected there,

the mouth that let the insult free,

the hand that was not quick enough to cover it.

Her eyes become a loving mother’s eyes

that see a tired and fretful darling boy.

“Even the dogs,” she says, “beneath the table

eat the children’s crumbs.”

In that instant

All the bread you ever were, is leavened – doubled, tripled,

infinite

and suddenly you know the answer to that question even you

were loath to ask:

Those brimming baskets at the hillside feast,

those pesky fragments –

whose were those?

The lesson just got harder,

and the children’s mouths more numerous than

ever could be filled without

a death-defying miracle.

You thank her and you grant her wish

and show her shrouded body to the door,

then turn your face toward Jerusalem.

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