Harpist Brings Calmness, Serenity in Difficult Times

April 30, 2020

Nothing is normal or ordinary for St. Joseph’s Hospital in the time of COVID-19. There are no visitors bustling on the floors. There are no volunteers as their activities and assignments are cancelled for their own safety. There are no visits from pet therapy dogs. The gift shop is closed and there are restrictions and changes to other areas. There are less patients since elective surgeries have been suspended. People coming in for precautionary tests, procedures or therapies has been reduced as the treatments are done elsewhere or rescheduled. Only those patients deemed immediately medically necessary or emergencies are coming into the hospital. The hospital is a different place.

Yet, Tina Imperato continues. Or, instead, she plays on. She is one of the few semblances of normalcy.

Tina, a Tampa resident, is a St. Joseph’s Hospital chaplain and plays the harp as part of the hospital’s music therapy program. Normally, community musicians also come to the hospital and play for patients and staff. During COVID, there is only one musician. It is Tina with her 21-string folk harp.

A hospital chaplain since 1991, Tina has been playing the harp at St. Joseph’s for more than a dozen years. She is a familiar figure transporting her harp throughout the hospital on a wheeled cart.

During COVID, she has concentrated on playing on floors with critical care patients or COVID patients. She stations herself in the hallway and plays where staff and patients can hear.

“These are the high stress areas,” Tina said. “I just hope my music helps some people and brings happiness and brightness to their day. I feel blessed to be able to do this. I feel I am doing something soothing and functional. Musical sound is powerful, I am hoping it can promote relaxing and healing.”

She says the harp is an ideal instrument for this type of work. The soft sound can travel and carry a long way on a hospital floor and reach many. She improvises much of her music, mixing in classical work such as Beethoven with her own original compositions.

She is often greeted with a “thumbs-up,” and other approving gestures or words from team members.

“There is a lot of stress sometimes,” said Ryan Cote, a clinical nurse. “Her music helps to ease the tension going on in my mind. Her music can be a beautiful respite in a tough day.”

“I feel her music helps to bring a calming and soothing environment for patients,” said Carla Cabezas, a clinical nurse. “It is peaceful, it can take their mind off their situation for at least a short period of time.”

Tina is looking forward to when the hospital returns to normalcy and she will not be the lone musician. 

“Hopefully, this will end soon,” Tina said. “We have all learned a lot. After all of this happened, if the power of music has affected staff and patients in a positive way, I feel my small contribution has been worthwhile.”