Ruth Freedman

Photo by Anji Lee

Every Christmas night for the last 12 years, Makiki resident Ruth Freedman has been delighting audiences at Honolulu Hale with harp music as they take in the sights at Honolulu City Lights. Dubbing herself Mrs. Santa – a nickname she acquired from a little girl in the audience one year – Freedman offers a free concert every Christmas from Santa’s chair.

“Santa can’t sit on this throne anymore on Dec. 25, because obviously he has been all over the world,” Freedman says.

Although Freedman is Jewish, she feels that spreading holiday joy has no denomination. She continued the tradition this year, playing a wide repertoire of holiday songs, including international tunes, favorites such as White Christmas and, of course, local classic Mele Kalikimaka, from 8 to 11 p.m. Dec. 25.

But Christmas concerts are not the only way she uses her craft to help others. Freedman, originally from Los Angeles, picked up the harp on a whim while she was studying nursing at the University of Nevada at Reno. It remained her hobby for years, but it was during her 10 years as a nurse on Molokai at Kalaupapa that she discovered her true calling with music – harp therapy. She began playing for her patients there and found it was very soothing to many of them.

Freedman has since retired and moved to Oahu, but she still remains very connected to her former patients, visiting them in the hospital and supporting organizations such as Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa, a nonprofit dedicated to the individuals who have lived there.

“I want to do anything and everything – big and little – that I can to help the Kalaupapa patients,” Freedman says. “If they approach me, I am more than happy to do whatever they need, whatever they wish.”

In 2007, one Kalaupapa resident was being treated at Straub Clinic and Hospital here on Oahu. The woman was in poor condition, and Freedman went to visit her before she passed away. Freedman brought along her harp and began to play.

“(The patient) had been very unresponsive before. But all of a sudden … she was looking around, and she began to sing,” Freedman recalls. “It was such an astonishment to all of us … It was a beautiful thing.”

After that, Freedman has continued to use her music to serve patients. She visits Straub once a month to practice harp therapy, playing on every floor from the emergency room to the ICU to the cafeteria.

Although Freedman has helped many people with her music, she says that in a way, it is just as therapeutic for her.

“It is mutual,” she says. “Bringing pleasure to them brings pleasure to me. It is nothing more heroic than that.”