The Music-Thanatology Association International (MTAI) is a professional organization and certifying body for the field of music-thanatology. It has three levels of membership: Professional, Associate, and Friend.
Music-thanatology is a professional field within the broader sub-specialty of palliative care. It is a musical/clinical modality that unites music and medicine in end of life care. The music-thanatologist utilizes harp and voice at the bedside to lovingly serve the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the dying and their loved ones with prescriptive music.
Prescriptive music is live music that responds to the physiological needs of the patient moment by moment. For example, by observing vital signs such as heart rate, respiration and temperature, the music-thanatologist provides music that is tailored to each specific situation. The warmth of this living music can bring solace, dignity and grace to those nearing the ultimate journey at the end of life.
This music can help to ease physical symptoms such as pain, restlessness, agitation, sleeplessness and labored breathing. It offers an atmosphere of serenity and comfort that can be profoundly soothing for those present. Difficult emotions such as anger, fear, sadness and grief can be relieved as listeners rest into a musical presence of beauty, intimacy and compassion.
Music-thanatology is not intended to entertain or distract the patient. Instead, this music allows the patient to enter into the unbinding process of letting go in his or her own very personal way. It affords families a chance to be with their loved one in a very intimate yet safe atmosphere where words are not necessary, and the words that are said can come from a deep place, aided by the music.
Since antiquity, music and medicine have a long tradition as allies in healing. Music-thanatology is a contemporary field rooted in that same tradition. It has developed over the past three decades through the foundational work of Therese Schroeder-Sheker. Today there are music-thanatologists practicing throughout the United Sates and in several other countries around the world.
As medical technology becomes even more advanced, its practitioners recognize that there is suffering that eludes even the most sophisticated medical treatment. Many physicians and caregivers welcome music vigils as an integral form of care that offers an opportunity for relieving suffering and bringing comfort.