Music as medicine from young harp player


NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) — Even in the fast-paced, social-media-centric world of “Gen Z,”  Arilyn Mitchell remains focused on an ancient instrument, and the power of the music she creates with it.

Mitchell started playing the harp when she was 9 years old, and while she learned on a smaller version, the instruments she played over the years soon became bigger than her. 

“I liked it because it was different,” she said.

Even now, at 18 years old, her harp weighs nearly as much as she does.

Mitchell is the youngest of five kids and was the last one to pick up an instrument. She is following her older siblings who played everything from guitar to the African drum known as the “djembe.”

Shortly after learning how to play the harp, Mitchell was performing for nursing home patients, inspired by her sister who is a doctor.

Starting about four years ago, she began volunteering to play for patients at Newport Hospital, and Charlton Memorial Hospital in Fall River. 

Examples of her impact are heard from patients, including an elderly woman who she noticed listening to her for about an hour.

“It turns out her husband had just passed away the week before,” Mitchell said. “And I just played her favorite song. By chance. Just by chance. It was ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ by Gershwin.”  

She said moments like that make her volunteer work more than worth it.

“So, hearing little things like that and knowing that I’ve helped,” Mitchell said.

From the sun filled atrium she heads upstairs, playing for cancer patients and others going through the rigors of rehab from various ailments.

Then, there are the younger listeners who also appreciate her work.

“Sometimes,” Mitchell said. “They’ll hide and try to get them to come over and try it.”

Hours of practice have brought this 18-year-old to great musical heights, including earning a spot to study at the Royal College of Music in the United Kingdom, starting in the Fall.

She said she hopes to play professionally after college, but even then, she wants to continue to play for patients.

“I’ll still do it. I’ll find somewhere. Always,” she said. “I’ve been doing so long, that I can’t imagine not doing at least a little bit of volunteering with my time. It brings me joy playing and sharing my music.”

A number of other countries are about to hear her as well.

Later this month, Mitchell is heading out on a two-week tour of Europe with the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra.

Email Walt at with you story ideas and follow us on Twitter: @StreetStories12 and @wbuteau. 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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