“Soothing Music” Music-Thanatology featured in southern Oregon’s Mail Tribune

Music-Thanatologists Elizabeth Markell and James Excell were featured in yesterday’s Mail Tribune.  They work for the palliative care service at Rogue Valley Medical Center in Medford, Oregon.  The article highlights one of my favorite things about music-thanatology: in spite of music-thanatology’s unusual appearance, it is extremely effective for patient care. 

Reporter Chris Conrad writes, “It might sound like New Age mumbo jumbo, but Sue Kilbourne, RVMC’s clinical manager of medical oncology and palliative care, says music-thanatology can play a significant role in easing patient suffering. ‘We have seen such positive results from music-thanatology,’ Kilbourne says. ‘We now have nurses and even doctors who are recommending the musicians to patients. They believe it really does improve patient outcomes.’ The musicians are required to fill out medical observation charts with each patient. The hospital is collecting the data to share with other organizations looking to expand their palliative care programs.”

The idea of music-thanatology as “new age mumbo jumbo” is not surprising. I heard many variations of this idea when I interviewed medical professionals for Music at the End of Life: Easing the Pain and Preparing the Passage. Many noted that they had to experience firsthand the effect the music had on their patients before they understood the efficacy of music-thanatology. But once they did, they became extremely interested in offering the modality to more and more of their patients. 

It is difficult to imagine the sounds and feeling of a music-thanatology vigil without this firsthand experience.  But it is possible to get a small taste of it.  If you are curious about the sounds of the harp, I’d recommend listening to a few samples from my extremely talented colleagues in Everett, Washington, Jeri Howe and Dia Walker.  Their CD, Beauty Awaits, is a gorgeous and meditative collection. Take a few minutes and be transported. 


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