What is Music-Thanatology?


Fine-tuning the many strings of the harp occurs throughout the day, before receiving each patient, and quickly becomes, for the music-thanatologists practitioner, a spiritual metaphor for the fine-tuning of the inner life.  

The word Thanatos comes from the Greek, and refers to the mythological figure who is the twin brother of Sleep (Hypnos) and the son of Nyx or Night. There are many kinds of thanatologists today — medical, academic, theological, psychological — and all are needed. Music-thanatology is a discipline with a thirty year history which has served literally thousands of dying patients and their loved ones, and attracted the attention of distinguished medical, musical and theological teaching centers and practitioners throughout the United States and Europe. It is a contemplative practice with clinical applications, and a sub-specialty of palliative medicine. In its sole focus on the physical and spiritual care of the dying with prescriptive music, it is also a pastoral art which takes the words of the Gospel seriously, and turns toward the face of suffering without reserve. Certified music-thanatologists live a life of vocation/profession, and their work manifests in a synthesis of clinical acuity, musical artistry, and ongoing inner development. Certified music-thanatologists are paid professionals, and work in hospitals, parishes, hospices, and long-term care facilities, in clinical practices large and small, in part-time and full time rotations. Some also do volunteer work; both profiles represent a life of service.

Music-thanatologists complete a rigorous education offered through the Chalice of Repose Project, and this curriculum reflects elements of four distinctly different educational models: medical school, conservatoire training, seminary and the liberal arts tradition. The classroom didactic is followed by a symbolic and meaning-filled pinning ceremony, a challenging clinical internship, the writing of a thesis or professional paper, and the successful completion of comprehensive exams. Together, all five elements culminate in formal certification as a music-thanatology professional.

The music-thanatologists works with those who are actively dying (24-48 hours) or have received a terminal diagnosis, usually approximating six months. The goal of music-thanatology and prescriptive music deliveries is at least four-fold: relief of acute and chronic physiological pain and/or spiritual or interior suffering; the creation of the supportive conditions which can facilitate reconciliation and meaning in the face of mortality and suffering; a blessed or peaceful or conscious death which is returned back into the fullness of life and the whole human life cycle; the transformation of the personal, familial, medical, cultural, and community experiences of death.

This vigil information continues on What is Contemplative Musicianship?

Readers are encouraged to see Transitus: A Blessed Death in the Modern World.

Last updated Tuesday, 25-Feb-2014