Bedside singers soothe and support
By Sue Tiffin
If you search online for bedside singing choirs, you’ll find numerous results from coast to coast in Canada, as close as Peterborough, and throughout the world, in places like Cambodia, Mexico and New Zealand. Shared videos show small groups of people sitting bedside, gently singing in harmony while a person in a hospice room or hospital bed listens, whether they are visibly responsive or not.
The concept of bedside singing is not new, explains Nancy Gosse, Haliburton Highlands Health Services interim hospice co-ordinator, it’s been happening throughout time and is now finding a place in Haliburton County.
HHHS is welcoming musically-minded volunteers to join a Bedside Singers group. After training and rehearsal, groups of two or three people from the group will sing, by request, to individuals and groups of residents in long-term care, acute care, and palliative care settings to offer comfort.
“You know mothers with their children, it’s the most natural and common practice that people sing lullabies to their children to help them sleep, or family members sing together for enjoyment and bonding at special occasions, birthday parties or family gatherings or weddings,” said Gosse. “People enjoy singing together. So having a Bedside Singers program feels like a more natural way of expressing that love and support and caring for each other, in particular when someone is facing death, that it can be a way of connecting them and still helping them identify as who they are as an individual and what they enjoy hearing.”
It’s not professional music therapy, but sharing song for the benefit of people to enjoy it, explained Gosse, a client-centred approach to offering another aspect of service to support HHHS hospice clients.
“For anyone who has been on the receiving end of hearing a song specifically sung for them, it’s an amazing experience,” said Gosse. “...To have that experience of people gathered around you and entirely focused on you and singing to you as an individual is very powerful.” When you are the person that has the focus of those singers who are coming specifically to sing for you to help comfort and support you, she said, it’s a way to connect.
“The senses do decline and hearing, it’s very true, someone may be what we might consider to be unresponsive in a way that they can’t speak anymore or it may seem that they’re not connecting because their eyes are closed or they’re not engaging in conversation, but they’re very aware. They do hear. They do have a sense of what’s going on around them,” said Gosse, citing studies done on the vibration of sounds and quality of music suggesting that sound is healing and the vibration of music has a physical and physiological impact on the physical body. “So for somebody who is dying and may not have the ability to communicate in traditional ways they’re used to, they can still connect and the resonance of the music can still reach them in a way that’s very beneficial to them.”
Volunteers, after being accepted through the HHHS volunteer screening process, will train together with rehearsal for about four to six weeks. Gosse stressed that it’s an open-ended volunteer opportunity, requiring approximately anywhere from two to six hours a week of time commitment once initial training has been worked through depending on the individual and availability. It will be important that volunteers be able to carry a tune, and to sing together with others.
“It really is from the basis of community supporting one another, and it’s about sharing song because that’s sort of the most natural form of expression for people to express caring for one another, is to sing together and to be sung to,” she said.
Bedside Singers use no instruments, singing a capella, and from a selection of songs that range from being spiritual-based, to folk, to short pop tunes.
“We’re specifically finding music that sort of has a soothing quality, that sort of has more of a peaceful, calming message,” said Gosse. “In the beginning, we’ll be putting together a bunch of music that we think will be good, but what we’re hoping will happen is that we’ll start to get feedback from the people who are on the receiving end of the songs, and get our clients to say, you know, these are the songs we’re enjoying, can you bring more of those, or they may have a favourite that they want us to sing for them. We’ll do our best.”
Already, Gosse said, there’s a buzz about the program, with volunteers signing up to join as Bedside Singers.
“A lot of communities appreciate the value of music but I know Haliburton is very vibrant and rich in terms of its musical heritage, and there are a lot of people involved in music and singing through choirs, or through various kinds of folk arts music,” said Gosse. “It’s a very thriving community when it comes to music, so in some ways it’s a natural fit for this community to offer a program like this, or to offer that as an aspect of what we do, because people enjoy music, people enjoy song.”
The growing group, what Gosse calls, “a collection of people from the community, volunteers, who appreciate music and have an understanding of how beneficial music can be, so they want to share that through singing. And to just share that love of music, and just offer soothing and comfort,” is meeting every two weeks for rehearsals, with possibly four or five practices before smaller teams are formed.
“I’m very excited about it because personally, I really appreciate how music can affect peoples lives,” said Gosse. “So to see something like this happening and to see how excited our volunteers are about being involved, some of the clients that we’ve chatted with informally about it...everyone is so enthusiastic about this happening, that they can’t just can’t wait.”
For further information about the Bedside Singers program, contact Brigitte Gebauer, volunteer coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 705-457-2941 extension 2927 or Nancy Gosse, interim hospice coordinator at email@example.com or by phone at 704-457-2941 extension 2932.