The Harp and the Ferryman

The Harp and the Ferryman weaves a story of how music provides comfort and healing to people who are struggling with living and dying. The book is woven around Peter Roberts’ journey from being a successful fine furniture retailer to a music-thanatologist, a person who plays live harp music in bedside vigils for people, mainly those who are terminally ill. The book presents the findings of a number of studies that I have conducted into Peter’s work, conversations I had with and stories I was told by people who have experienced his work, either for themselves or for someone they loved, and were moved in some way by the experience.  The research and stories bring to life both the reason for and the results of that journey that Peter took back in the early nineties.

I have been working with Peter since 2004, initially as a researcher and until 2013 as a director of his Institute of Music in Medicine, a not for profit charity that supports the work of music-thanatology in Australia.  The book also contains some of my reflections on the vigils I have witnessed and on my career as a nurse working with dying people. I have been a nurse for more than 40 years, but I have seldom been as moved as when I witness bedside vigils with the harp.

The book was published by the Michelle Anderson Publishing company in March 2013.
You can order our book through me through this website, through the publisher via the contacts page, or order it in to your local book store.

You can securely order the book from the website of co-author Peter Roberts. Once there, select either 'Within Australia' or 'Outside Australia' to place the order.

This is a half hour radio interview that I did with Great Southern Radio in Western Australia.
Download interview.mp3 or listen to it now:
Here are some of the wonderful reviews we have had already:
One from Dr Craig Hassed, well known for his books New Frontiers in Medicine: the body as the shadow of the soul; Know Thyself; The Essence of Health: The seven pillars of wellbeing. Craig is a physician and works in the Monash University Dept of General Practice:

‘Maybe we all have a calling in life that takes us to places we never dreamed existed and through trials that we would have otherwise been happy to avoid. The journey leads to opportunities we could not have dreamed and synchronicity that we could not have planned. It challenges us to grow beyond our self-imposed and comfortable limitations and make a contribution to the wellbeing of others with whom we might never have otherwise walked. If we all have a calling in life then it may be that most of us do not heed it or are afraid to follow it. That is anything but the case for Peter Roberts and Helen Cox, two remarkable Australians whose journey is both an inspiration and a blessing to all who hear about it. The Harp and the Ferryman beautifully weaves together their individual and collective paths to bring music, beauty and peace to so many who suffered or confronted their own mortality. It is a book that gently challenges us to heed that still, quiet knowing within ourselves that we so often ignore in this busy and distracted world.’

Dr Michael Barbato is a retired physician who has been a palliative care practitioner for a great many years. Michael's comments on our book were:

'The Harp and the Ferryman describes Peter Robert’s extraordinary transformation from a dealer in fine furniture to a music-thanatologist. It is a journey of self-discovery. A journey in which his outer world slowly falls apart and then aligns itself with a deep-seated longing to play the harp and sing for those whose pain is beyond the reach of conventional medicine. This is a hauntingly beautiful insight into one man’s dream to step into the unknown and follow the music of his heart. The book will change you just as Peter’s music transforms the lives of others.'

Prof Alan Pearson was my doctoral supervisor many years ago, so he knows my writing well. He is now the Executive Director of the Joanna Briggs Institute and Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Adelaide University. We used an excerpt from his review on the book cover, this is his full review:

'My life and work focuses on the scientific evidence base for healthcare; this book presents evidence on the effects of the work of Peter Roberts on the lives (and deaths) of others that is just as powerful as any multi-site randomised clinical trial. This beautifully written; stunningly engaging; and powerfully challenging book provides a cogent account of the work of a harpist with dying people and with premature infants. It presents the evidence to support the assertion that music is therapeutic and that it heals in the broadest sense of the word. This well crafted story of a music-thanatologist and the examination and evaluation of his work with the dying and with babies in a neonatal unit represents the best – and most moving – read I have ever had.'

A review by Prof Phil Larkin, professor of palliative care nursing in Dublin, Ireland was so special we decided to use it as a foreword:

'This is a book of reverence. A book which pays homage to all of those who have been present to the healing power of music – be they professional or patient. The breadth of musical genre presented here reaches out beyond the boundaries of what science offers to the deeper places often hidden in life and sometimes painfully exposed as we face into our dying. The description of vigil as a sense of waiting in anticipation resonates with the reflections of the founder of the modern hospice movement, Cicely Saunders, in her little book ‘ Watch with me’, where she shows how our presence can be a powerful healing tool, possibly the most powerful tool of all. The careful presentation of the experiences of Helen as a nurse and researcher and Peter as a music-thanatologist build a compelling case for the value of music as a way to be present at that most challenging and painful of times for all of us. This book will make you want to know more. ‘The Harp and The Ferryman; evokes the tone and timbre of the life journey of Peter through his spiritual explorations which continue to give vitality to his role as a music-thanatologist. Moreover, the potential reach of music across the spectrum of healthcare, from neonatology to gerontology gives a lasting image of new ways in which we as healthcare professionals can be truly present to those we care for in a meaningful and responsive way. This book would be of benefit to a wide readership. Student nurses would learn greatly from Helen’s reflections on nursing. Palliative care specialists and colleagues working in the complementary and supportive services will understand a little more about their sense of purpose in what they do every day. And for the public, this book will bring pleasure. That even at times which we fear most, such as dying, we need not be afraid of the ‘aloneness’ which the authors describe in such a meaningful way. The cases which are presented show us the importance of respecting sacred moments. The decisions that Peter Roberts made about where his life was going, has profoundly affected the lives of others. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful legacy for all of us to leave behind when our time comes to die?'

There are many more just like these. We were so delighted that our book is being so well received.

Meet the authors, Peter Roberts and Helen Cox.