GILLETTE — Carmen Sinclair’s musical instrument isn’t the most mobile. Cold temperatures can make its strings break.
Then there’s the awkward 60 pounds of weight in the harp, which stands about 5-foot-4, the same height as the musician.
But once she starts playing Christmas music as a volunteer in the lobby of Campbell County Memorial Hospital, it’s a show stopper for some of those passing through as they head in different directions for medical reasons of their own or family and friends.
Sinclair, 62, is one of those who consistently donates her time and talent to provide live music at the hospital and some of Campbell County Health’s nearby clinics, such as dialysis, the cancer center or the hospice home during the holiday season. This year, she played the piano and then returned with her harp. It’s something the former public school music teacher has done for at least the past four years.
In a way, the many hours of music provided by the volunteer musicians strike a chord within all who pass through.
Sinclair was playing “God Rest Ye’ Merry Gentleman” when Nick Carano came through the hospital lobby with his family. He began slowing his purposeful stride, a large smile breaking out on his face.
“I don’t know if I have ever seen a harp,” he said to his family. All three of them paused, listening. “This is fun.”
As he and his family passed back through on their way out, Carano began lagging behind again. They moved on as he stopped and took out his cellphone, taking photos of Sinclair sitting on her stool and plucking the harp’s 38 strings (there are 47 strings on larger harps).
“That is so cool,” Carano said. “This is amazing. I’ve got to get a picture.”
Others also slowed as they walked past. Most were also smiling. Sinclair heard a few hardy compliments tossed her way as she went through her repertoire of traditional Christmas selections.
“Beautiful music,” an older gentleman said as he coasted by.
“Good job,” a young lady tells Sinclair during a pause between songs. “Thank you.”
“That’s absolutely beautiful,” another adds.
Looking on is Sinclair’s son, who helped bring the harp into the hospital. He’s spending the holidays with his mom and fits the saying on a poster in the lobby window, “Feathers Appear When Angels Are Near.”
He’s used to his mom’s soothing touch, he said. As a child, he’d wake up in the mornings to his mom practicing in the room above him in their house.
Sinclair, who began playing piano at the age of 7, said she had wanted to play the harp for many years, but the expense of the instrument kept her from doing so. Then she found the one she has now now at an affordable price and began taking lessons in Casper. It makes her volunteer work possible.
“I think it’s important,” she said of those who most benefit from the music. “The sound of the harp is so soothing.”
Those tones stopped Rachel Blakesley in her tracks as she entered the lobby and Sinclair began to strum the chords for “Emmanuel.”
“It’s great, it’s great,” Blakesley said, standing still and listening. “She’s good. I can’t imagine how difficult it is to play that with all those strings. That’s incredible.”
Blakesley found it hard to move, in fact.
“I love this,” she said, holding medical paperwork in her hand. “I could stand here all day. Oh, it’s incredible.” Then she began moving, but not before offering some enthusiastic clapping and cheers, “very good, very good.”