What Is Music-Thanatology?

Music-Thanatology | A Music Vigil | The Music

The Music

The music used in the vigil setting is contemplative music using harp and voice. The Certified Music-Thanatologist (CM-Th) works to provide a musical presence that draws together and responds to the various streams of diagnosis, prognosis, personal, spiritual and social context, as well as the presenting and ever changing physiological parameters of the patient.

The music is delivered to support the process that is taking place within and around the patient. Musical elements such as rhythm, pacing, volume and tone are tailored, or prescribed, live at the bedside, and the delivery changes constantly in attentive response to the patient. For example, the length and shape of a musical phrase can correspond to the rise and fall of the patient's breath. Fluctuations in dynamics can reflect variations from restless to calm, or from effort to ease. Rhythm may be an avenue to achieve a close synchronization, and letting go of that rhythm may support the possibility of inner and outer movement. This is not to say there is a particular formula to be followed, only that live music at the bedside provides a broad spectrum of choices for the trained practitioner to employ in seeking to accompany patients, families and caregivers as they work through the end-of-life process.

In general, the music is quiet, restful, and meditative. While the material used might draw from sources such as sacred song (Gregorian chants, hymns, prayer and praise songs), lullabies and other traditional forms, it is important to understand that these sources simply provide seed material which can then be tailored to suit the needs of the situation at hand. Prescriptive music is not dependent on specific repertoire. Instead, it is a way of being present to both the obvious and the subtle aspects of a situation, analyzing options, and responding in a deeply musical way. Whether conscious or unconscious, the patient is always in charge of the musical direction because we connect at the level of breath, pulse, temperature, pain, effort, and tension; things that we all share by dint of our basic humanity. With this focus, the music can address the needs of each unique individual. In this way, the music seeks to be an expression of beauty and love; and as such, it transcends diverse affiliations of faith and culture.

While there is certainly a place for commonly known music or "old favorites" during many phases of life, music-thanatologists will distinctly steer toward music that is unassociated with particular memories, thoughts or feelings. With this intention of holding a focus on the present moment, the alternation of sound and silence will tend to encourage the listener to simply receive on a deep level.
Created: August 06, 2000     Last updated: September 22, 2008