Alison-Ware

About me. I began learning the harp over 20 years ago and immediately fell in love with this beautiful instrument.

It is a beautiful, resonant instrument that has long been associated with healing and wellbeing. In recent times there has been a renaissance in using the harp as a complementary therapy in both healthcare and community settings.

I founded HarpCare to offer a range of personalised music, mindfulness and creative arts programs to support you, wherever you are in your life or work journey.

Drawing on 15 years experience of playing and composing on the harp, and my qualifications in Nursing, Counselling, Art Therapy, Spiritual Care and Mindfulness Based Stillness Meditation, I am able to tailor programs to suit particular individual or group needs.

Passion and Philosophy

The HarpCare philosophy is grounded in the belief that music and the creative arts are vital to our health and wellbeing.

Indeed, evidence based research has now shown that music provides us with touchstones that support our social, physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological health.

Whether playing for patients in hospital, working with the amazing frontline medical staff, delivering harp experiences in the community, or providing audio enrichment for animals, all HarpCare programs follow a holistic approach towards care, health and wellbeing.

Therefore it is not just a musical performance, but an experience firmly placed in the healing art of integrative medicine.

As a breast cancer survivor, I have personally experienced the value of music, mindfulness and the creative arts to heal, nurture and support us during difficult times.

Our passion about the use of music for self care and nourishment aligns with our core values of compassion, kindness, attentive listening, reflective practice, hospitality, presence and respect.

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When I first began this work, I attended a vigil where a young father was dying from inoperable cancer. I played quietly while his wife, children and family held and lay quietly with him. His wife held his hand looking closely at the lines on his palm, turning his hand over gently caressing and following the outline of his hand with her fingers. She got out her phone and took a photo of their hands entwined. In moments, such as these the room becomes quiet, still and reflective. The air is thick with emotion and a sense of the sacred. There can be beauty in difficult places. It also enables others to not feel as if they need to fill up the room with noise but gives them permission to just be in that space.

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The Harp

When played in healthcare, the harp has its own acoustic sound and presence. It takes on a quality of its own.

There’s also an alchemy and dialogue that happens between the listener/patient and the harpist. Layers of nuance are hard to capture when we play music in the service of others. The music ebbs and flows as I adjust to suit the person I am playing for.

I have…
~ played my harp and supported people just as their new babies are born.

~ been present as people suffered great sorrow, experienced joy, pain, grief and hope in times of unexpected challenges.

~ accompanied patients at the time of their death and played for their family at their funeral.

~ listened to people telling me their dreams, hopes and triumphs.

~ soothed and nurtured frontline health workers, doctors, caregivers and people in our community seeking respite.

~ provided harp music to calm and nurture animals at the zoo and pets in distress.

Harp music has special qualities to comfort, uplift, provide beauty, relax, augment pain relief, encourage reminiscence and assist mindfulness. It is truly a magnificent instrument.

GET IN TOUCH with me
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The Harp

BY ALISON WARE

The harp is an ancient instrument associated with magic and mystery.
It is said to have been a gift to our world from the gods bringing healing, transition and transformation.
The souls of our troubled world needing music to express laughter, lullaby and lament.
When I first sat down at the harp there was an instant recognition of coming home.
I remember the delight I felt as I sat down and pulled the harp towards me.
The wood felt smooth and cool under my fingers.
The soundbox weighed heavily on my shoulder.
The beeswax polish smelt fragrant in the warm room.
I felt uplifted by the clear bell like sound as I tentatively plucked a string.
The resonance and vibration enveloped me. I was 35, drifting and restless, looking for direction and purpose, unbeknownst to me that day started me on a path that followed my great grandmother – also a harpist and nurse.
I trained as a hospital harpist and now find the harp has become an extension of myself.
It is my familiar and become a place of comfort.
The first thing I reach for to settle, soothe, calm or focus myself.
My family say I have become a harp tragic- seeing harp shapes in clouds, in gnarled eucalyptus trees and geometric buildings.
I am drawn to the sound.
I can detect a single chord pattern played in a crowded orchestral piece.
When I play my inner world is reflected outward.
The music amplifies my inner chord.
If I am angry I play discordant and staccato, my fingernails scraping the nylon strings.
If I am sad the music becomes low, slow and the room becomes quiet.
I work in a busy hospital visiting patients experiencing physical, emotional or spiritual pain.
What can music bring to this setting?
It can transform and change the soundscape of a busy, loud medical facility.
It can provide rest for the weary and solace for those grieving through loss and change.
I see a new mother relax, shoulders drop and with a deep sigh her hungry new baby suckles.
I see joy as an elderly woman who no longer speaks or remembers what day it is suddenly recognises a tune, and says “my mother used to sing that song” and joins in the chorus.
I play softly and watch as a patient settles, their breathing deepens and they fall asleep.
The question for a therapeutic harpist, is the harp playing Alison or is Alison playing the harp?
Every day my work is different, dependent on who refers or calls for my service.
Today I play at a baby memorial
I see small white coffins in a row in the front of the chapel
I smell the fragrant candle wax
I watch the mourning families struggling to make sense of their loss.
There are tears in the new funeral directors eyes
I feel his anguish in my gut.
Music can bring beauty into unexpected places.
A nurse lingers at the doorway while I am playing. The patient invites her to come in, sit down and listen. The nurse who is caring for the patient is now being cared for by the patient.
Most of my work is with the dying.
When I play at this time I am sitting, watching, waiting and keeping vigil.
Is death a medical event with spiritual applications or, a spiritual event with medical applications?
In its own time, the work of the music is done and the sound and life moves into silence.
This work has challenged how I live my life.
My bucket list of extravagant adventures has been emptied.
It has been refilled with simple things.
A cup of tea made just the way I like it, hot, strong, no sugar and a dash of milk.
Eating a whole bag of Miss Peacocks truffles, trying not to drop the flowing caramel onto my book.
Spending time with family knowing it is precious and finite.
At the end of each day I am tired, fulfilled, no longer restless and searching for my vocation.
I am home.

Published in the International Harp Therapy Journal and the Australian Therapeutic Harp Alliance newsletter. 

In the Media

How Alison’s harp is helping patients heal
The Canberra Times, 17 May 2019

The International Harp Therapy Journal, Vol 24, 2019
Articles Therapeutic harp, A memoir and Intern program at Canberra Hospital Update.

The International Harp Therapy Journal – Vol 21, no 2, 2016
Article: Cultivating a therapeutic relationship with patients.

Harp for Healing: music therapy strikes a chord
Cover Story, Canberra Weekly, April 2016

2014 World Harp Congress
Presentation on the use of the harp in health and hospice care.

International Harp Therapy Journal, Vol 19 No 3, 2014

International Brain Tumour Alliance World Edition Journal, 2014
Article: Music speaks what cannot be expressed

Interview – Harp for acute care
ABC Radio: Life Matters, 2014

Journal of the Australasian Rehabilitation Nurses Association, 2013
Article: The emerging field of harp therapy and its clinical applications