Music-thanatology is a medical modality that creates a space where the sacredness of life is honored.
Music-thanatology is a contemplative practice with clinical applications. It can be valuable for patients of any age, hearing capacity, level of awareness, or spiritual identity. A referral for a music-thanatology vigil is appropriate when patients have a DNR (do not resuscitate) or similar admitting status, and are: processing news of a terminal diagnosis; experiencing emotions such as anxiety, depression, anger or loneliness; in physiological, interior or spiritual pain; sleep deprived; nauseated; morphine intolerant; and also during removal from life support. This practice is offered as a component of supportive end-of-life care.
The harp is the instrument of choice for many reasons. Briefly, it is polyphonic, meaning that many notes can sound at once, which is necessary for creating beneficial textures and harmonies. Long strings produce deep, warm and resonant melting tones, creating a body of sound that gradually dissolves, and is not invasive to vulnerable patients. The harp is easily transported, and can be played in small spaces. My working instruments are featured in the banner of this website.
The word thanatology derives from Greek mythology, where Thanatos, was imaged as the god of death. Thanatology refers to the field of death and dying. Music-thanatology commenced forty years ago, and coincided with the birth and development of palliative medicine, as well as the various English and American hospice movements. The inspiration came from the monastic medicine practiced by the monks of Cluny France during the 11th century. Their devotion to the care of the dying cultivated an awareness that music has a capacity to comfort body, mind, and spirit.
Cox, Hellen and Roberts, Peter. The Harp and the Ferryman. Michelle Anderson Publishing, (Melbourne, 2013)
Hollis, Jennifer L. Music at the End of Life. Praeger (Santa Barbara, 2010),
Franz, Jane and LaForge, Sandra. From Behind the Harp: Music in End of Life Care. HarpStrung Press (Missoula, 2015)
“From Music Into Silence,” 2019. A film by Farshid Akhlaghi and Sammi Ghafari featuring the work of music-thanatologist Peter Roberts.
"The Gift - The Chalice of Repose Project for ABC Nightline with Ted Koppel," 1996. Re-released as DVD for Pleroma Press in 2009.