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Musical Magic at Westland House 

When she died in 1993, Nancy Cavanagh Ballard left a legacy at Westland House that's like something out of a fairy tale: a nearly 90-year-old hand-carved golden pedal harp, with intricate figures on its base and a golden crown on top.

Serena Cabral UnderwoodHarpist Serena Cabral Underwood
plays the Lyon and Healy harp for
patients and visitors.

Twice a month, harpist Serena Cabral Underwood caresses each string, bringing soothing and familiar music to patients and their families and friends. Underwood and the striking harp are at Westland House through the generosity of Ballard, who willed the instrument and $5,000 for its upkeep and someone to play it to the Hospice Foundation.

"This harp is one of the most beautiful instruments I've ever seen," says Underwood. "It is just gorgeous to look at, and the sound is ethereal. It creates a lot of magic and lifts people out of their circumstances."

The harp is a Lyon & Healy Style 19, built in Chicago in 1921. It is no longer made, but a few years ago its newer version sold for more than $25,000.

Underwood, who has been playing more than 20 years, has a repertoire that includes Celtic songs, hymns, and classical music; and she takes requests. Almost always, patients stop to chat, she says.

"We always engage in light conversation, usually related to music or to the mechanics of the pedal harp," Underwood says.

The money left by Ballard for upkeep and playing has been dwindling. Underwood is hopeful new benefactors will recognize the music's value and replenish the fund.

"There is something to be said about music being soothing," she says. "Harp music can do wonders for one's well-being, and the patients often express their joy at hearing such heavenly sounds."

To contribute to the fund, please contact Development at 625-4506.

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