Musical thanatology, a space for the harp

We have all experienced the great influence that music can have on our mood, sometimes taking us from sadness to euphoria. But what happens if it is used on people who are about to die? Keep reading, some results will seem surprising to you.


Sometimes when we think of a talented musician, we believe that his field of action is limited to performing for an ever-growing audience, attentive and focused on enjoying the harmony that he can provide and that in this lies his success. Or that when the time comes, when tours and concerts are already a demanding activity and the age of the artist is advanced, becoming a teacher is the most appropriate. However, the fields of action for this profession can go beyond reaching the ears of a few loyal fans or passing on knowledge to a new generation of interpreters. In fact, it may be the same artist who is looking for a particular audience and an entry ticket is not issued to enjoy their talent, as happened to James Excell, a harpist currently based in Denver. 

It all started with the unfortunate event in which his twin granddaughters had to remain hospitalized for four months in the intensive care section of a hospital. Trying to help, the artist carried his harp to the hospital, in order to calm them while they were hospitalized. The sessions lasted just 15 minutes, its effects were enough to achieve a positive change that reached even other hospitalized infants, making the heart rate of the little ones, altered by their health problems, slowed down, reaching almost normal levels. Faced with such results, it was not long before Excell began playing to help other cases in the hospital, keeping calm with his instrument.




Music and death a relationship difficult to conceive

Dying is a step is a natural step with which life ends, this could be a very easy definition to understand, but it implies much more. In contrast to life, where we spend many years learning, erring and correcting until we believe that enough experience has been acquired, the same does not happen with death, it is faced without first-hand prior knowledge and inevitably arrives. It is a completely personal moment, a different experience in each human being and for many it involves anguish, fear, pain and anxiety, feelings that make both those who are about to go through this moment suffer, as well as those who see them leave. 

However, although that moment cannot be experienced with the person, a close accompaniment can be offered that makes it more bearable, even more tolerable for those who are the loved ones of the one who is about to die. This accompaniment does not necessarily have to be in the form of wise and rational speech, or be provided through physical contact that can convey empathy, but through the subtle but efficient resource that music can be.


Music therapy and musical thanatology

If we know that music has an undeniable influence on people and artists are capable of transmitting feelings to the public, managing to change their mood, then we can come to the interesting conclusion that music can have a very positive effect on those who due to it. a disease have seen their mood affected. From a medical point of view, the emotional condition is so important that the lack of treatment in this area can lead to an accelerated deterioration of your physical condition.

With the purpose of helping patients in a worrying state of mind, music therapy arises, managing to make its way among the options that exist as effective treatments; But a very special branch has focused on those people for whom recovering health is no longer an option, and are about to live their last hours in this world. We refer to musical Thanatology, a professional study derived from the specialty known as palliative care, which takes advantage of the undeniable effect that music causes on people’s minds.




Any instrument and any interpreter?

If you want to use music as a resource, then we also have to think that it is necessary that there are people who want to lend their knowledge and skills to carry out this type of work. However, it takes more than knowledge of music to be able to help in these circumstances, for this reason it is necessary to prepare performers with special training.

Analyzing roughly the challenge that this activity can pose, we must begin by considering that in traditional Western culture, people are not usually prepared in the family or practical environment to live with death. In reality, it is a topic that is generally little talked about and that can be surrounded by fears. This is the first obstacle that the musician must overcome, overcome his own natural tendency to avoid any contact with death.

In addition, the musician who focuses his services on this field of action must always be vigilant during the duration of the accompaniment, to adapt his interpretations according to the vital signs of the person, such as his heart rate, the breathing of the patient and even their temperature. This is called a musical vigil, and all this must be adapted without straying from providing a warm and dignified environment, in order to offer comfort on this final journey.

As for the instrument to choose, it cannot be just anyone, its sound must be reassuring and subtle, which is why the most used in these cases is the harp , as it manages to meet expectations and cause the expected effect.


Impact of musical thanatology

It is surprising to learn that to date, nonprofits like JourneyCare in Chicago serve an average of nearly 3,000 people a day. In this way we can get an idea regarding the effect that musical thanatology can have. Which makes us think that probably the best harp of the moment could be destined to offer its sound in this type of situation.



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