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Harpists Bring Comfort to the Dying

August 2nd, 2009 · No Comments · Music Medicine

I’ve been writing about music’s healing power for over 12 years now and I have seen the public’s awareness of the power grow and grow. Today, many hospitals have music therapy departments and the average person knows what is meant by music therapy, music healing, and music medicine.
Almost daily, there are articles about all the ways that music can be used to improve the quality of life and even heal illnesses. Last week there was a wonderful article about harpists playing music for people that are in hospice units or slowly slipping way at home.
” There was nothing more to do for this 62-year-old woman — no oxygen or other life support, just a morphine drip to keep her as comfortable as possible.

That, and the ministrations of Jane Franz.

Franz brought her harp to the foot of Carolyn’s bed, and started to play, weaving a hypnotic and soothing melody. Occasionally, she paused to adjust to the rhythm of Carolyn’s heartbeat and breathing. After 20 minutes, the last notes settled like a benediction over the room.

Three family members sat at her bedside, sometimes holding hands. There were tears and hugs. Franz returned the next day to play one last time, and then Carolyn died.

This is what Franz does. As a music-thanatologist on the staff of Sacred Heart Hospital, she uses music to bring comfort to the dying.

“Doctors can write lots of medical prescriptions and not get the right response,” said Dr. Stewart Mones, medical director at Sacred Heart. “There are times when no medicines are as effective as music therapy.”

Music-thanatology — “Thanatology” derives from “Thantos,” the Greek word for death — has been around in various forms for centuries. Its roots extend at least back to the monastic medicine of Benedictine monks in 11th-century Cluny, France.

As practiced today, it was developed over more than 30 years by Therese Schroeder-Sheker. Her Chalice of Repose program was located in Colorado and Montana before 2002, when it moved to Mt. Angel in the quiet farm country of the Willamette Valley south of Portland.
It stresses carefully individualized “prescriptive music,” a concept Schroeder-Sheker developed in which a harpist observes the body processes and mental state of a patient and adjusts tone and tempo to match.

Music thanatologists say they use the harp for the many sounds it can make and for its warm, low, resonant tones. And it’s portable.

Their “vigils,” as they are called, are held at no cost to the patient at a growing number of hospitals and hospices across the United States and elsewhere.”

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