About a year ago, I received an check with no explanation from the publisher of my book, Music at the End of Life, Easing the Pain and Preparing the Passage. It was big enough that I knew it could not be royalties (Believe it or not, books about music and end of life care do not exactly fly off the shelves of Amazon.com). I sent a brief note to my publisher to find out more.
I received an apologetic email the next day explaining that the Japanese rights to my book had been licensed to a publishing company in Japan for translation in 2014. They were planning to publish the Japanese edition at the end of next year.
In the last few months I have heard from the Japanese translator of the book, with detailed questions about certain phrases and word choices. It is a very mysterious thing to be translated. When my book came out in 2010, I received an email from a colleague who said, “I just keep looking at it and thinking, ‘Jen chose that word, and that word, and that word…’” She was right. Writing, even when it is heavily researched and full of quotes from other people, is simply a choice of one word after another.
But in translation, writing is two people’s choice of words, one right after the other. I think about people reading my words, our choice of words, in a language I do not speak. There is an entire chapter of stories in the book, descriptions of music-thanatology vigils, that will be read and understood in a new language. The reach of the book will be much wider, thanks to this translator’s careful work.
What about you? Have you ever been translated? What was the experience like?
My colleague Peter Roberts, a music-thanatologist in Australia, has published a book called The Harp and the Ferryman. Co-written with Dr. Helen Cox, the book traces Peter’s journey from businessman to music-thanatologist, as well as the research Dr. Cox has done on the effects of Peter’s music on patients. I had the pleasure of reading the book before it was published, and it is a moving account of this field and his work.
Peter’s recordings are exquisite. Spend some time listening to the samples on his website. You can learn more about Peter’s journey in this profile, “Compassionate Care Through Music.”
Because music-thanatology is such an unusual term, I have a Google alert for it. Any time an alert comes up, it is almost always interesting and relevant, like this blog post about a colleague in the Chicago area. The blog is called Cheerful Thrifty Door, and the author shares her experience of finding herself at a music-vigil while visiting a friend. She had the presence of mind to ask some questions after the music-vigil and shares her impressions here.
This is a great introduction to music-thanatology, with scenes from the bedside of patient visits and interviews with music-thanatologists. The video quality is not great, but it is still easy to see the beauty in these moments.
During one of the interviews, my colleague Laura Moya, who was a loan department manager before she trained as a music-thanatologist, jokes that, “Loan department managers don’t sing very often.” I’m a strong believer that most people have a secret artists’ life. Many music-thanatologists had very different professional lives before they decided to provide music for the dying. This video offers an interesting portrait of the meaning most of them find in their new work.
The Chicago Tribune recently published an article about music-thanatology. “Experimental music for palliative care” highlights the ways in which even initially skeptical patients can be soothed and comforted by music that is delivered prescriptively.
Julia Smith was 64 and working at the Spokane County Auditor’s Office when she decided to pursue her dream of becoming a music-thanatologist. “Harpist realizing dream of music ministry” in The Spokesman Review tells more of her story.