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Hi-Line Living - Healing with harps on the Hi-Line

 

Havre Daily News/Ryan Berry

A local musician has turned her love of using music as a ministry into heading a worldwide network of musical healing.

Mary Stevens of Havre is the head of and a program mentor for Harps for Healing.

Harps for Healing is a form of therapeutic music that meets the immediate needs of a patient or client from a trained professional musician who adapts the music playing style to provide that individual a place of healing or peace.

Stevens said she became involved in music at an early age.

"I started playing the organ in high school and wanted to get further into it," she said.

Stevens grew up in Chester, where she was a student of Iris White when she began playing the piano. By the time she entered high school, she was performing music at her church, Chester's Lutheran church. Her father led Sunday school at the church, and as he would lead the songs, she would accompany him on the piano.

She added that the pastor's wife at that time was the organist for the church and when the pastor was moving on to another calling, White told her that she needed to learn the organ "because your church needs you." She learned to be a one-legged organist - using only one foot on the pedals - while still in high school, and that started her involvement in playing in churches that has continued ever since.

"It has been a lifetime calling of church music," Stevens said.

At age 19, she married Rick Stevens of Havre, and eventually they settled in Havre. They have two daughters, Rachel Dean and Julie Stevens.

"Moving to Havre was a deliberate choice so that we could be close to our parents as they aged and needed our help. At that time, I did not know that my life would be focused on music and ministry," Stevens said. "There were not opportunities in Havre to get a music degree, so most of my music skills are self-taught."

She recalls a time when she was at the dedication of the St. Jude Thaddeus organ and saw for the first time someone playing the organ with two feet.

"I was absolutely fascinated by that and so then started to study the organ a little more seriously," Stevens said.

She moved on to play for the Presbyterian church in town for a couple years, then went on to First Lutheran where she played its big pipe organ, loved it and stayed there for more than 20 years.

Stevens got her first harp in 2004 and has been performing at Northern Montana Health Care since then, once or twice a month. Her mother-in-law is also a resident at the facility, but Stevens said she started those performances because she wanted to get into a more one-on-one contact, which began her therapeutic music career in 2008. She started with Harps for Healing in 2009.

Therapeutic music works one-on-one, at the bedside, giving people what they need at the moment through stimulation, relaxation, sleep or helping the need to heal. Through the therapeutic music studies, people learn how to read a patient to give them what they need at that moment.

"The therapeutic music is a wonderful extension of the church music ministry because in church music you are playing for the masses and you are following a worship service. It is wonderful and I find it very rewarding, but it isn't that one-on-one personal thing," Stevens said "The combination of the church music playing for worship and the bed-side playing for one-on- one for people, it's a whole package of music ministry."

In 1985, she had a very active piano studio, where she taught piano lessons and was at home to be a mother to her two daughters. As the girls got older, they helped their mother teach the music theory part as she taught the actual playing on the piano. Years went on, and she found that teaching was not where she was called in her ministry. She said she was successful at it, but not where she wanted to be.

She said when it comes to therapeutic music, the harp is considered one of the primary instruments. There is something about the plucked string and the harmonics of it, the development of the sound, the gentleness of it especially when it's plucked by flesh, Stevens said, adding that there is a balance of the harmonics that does something to the human body. She said the harp has always had a primary place in human history.

For the therapeutic benefit, the therapeutic musician will tailor their music to the person in front of them in a bedside setting, watching as they play. For therapeutic music, what she does doesn't require a college degree and is something that is possible to learn through experience, learned as the musician goes along. No pre-set goals exist with therapeutic music. The patient is in charge of how the session goes as Stevens plays to meet their need of relaxation.

"If the patient relaxes to the point they are droopy-eyed, zoned-out or about to go to sleep, that is the biggest compliment that they can give me while I'm playing for them," Stevens said.

Four programs came together in the 1990s, developing the National Standard Board for Therapeutic Musicians that established methods for training therapeutic musicians. Stevens is on that board. This board formed to help people to start with a knowledge base rather than trial and error. The goal through therapeutic music - though it is different from person to person - is mainly to get tension out of the way to let the body heal itself.

Stevens added that when people think of how doctors work, they can see what they actually do is take the barriers to healing out of the way. The more stress that is in the body, the less the healing can take place. The role of therapeutic music is to take away some of that stress and encourage healing.

"You take them to a place of joy, and joy is healing, especially for mental health issues. You want to take them to a place of relaxed healing or relaxed joy," Stevens said.

In 2015, she took over Harps for Healing, which is one of the four programs that originally came together to form the standards board. It is an international program that encompasses 13 countries. She has students not only from the U.S. and Canada, but also from Mexico, France, Italy, Hong Kong, Singapore and more. Harps for Healing is a distance-learning program, so it is all self-study and self-paced.

Havre Daily News/Ryan Berry

Harp for Healing has always has been a home-study program, and that is what makes it unique among other training programs, Stephens said. It has no travel requirements, and every student is assigned a mentor authorized by the program where they communicate through email or Skype. About 10 mentors are in the program.

The students study the written materials sent to them and they listen to audio and visual video resources on the website. Upon completion, the student receives certified clinical musician status.

Stevens keeps active in her musical ministry outside of Harps for Healing, as well. She plays weekly at Van Orsdel United Methodist Church, about once a month or as needed at First Lutheran Church, and as needed at St. Jude Thaddeus Church. She also has played for St. Jude Thaddeus School's weekly school mass for the past several years. Additionally, she plays for Assembly of God care center services twice per month.

"It is wonderful. It is rewarding," Stevens said.

 

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