The Sound of Comfort

Hands playing harpMusic is a powerful thing. As we said in a previous blog post, Music and Memory, it can have the power to ‘bring to life’ elderly folk with dementia.

Or, as I also wrote some time before that, music transports us through time, connects us with other people, helps to heal wounds, makes us laugh, makes us cry and feeds the soul.

More recently we’ve discovered another powerful way in which music is used to make a significant difference – this time at the end of life for those in palliative care. It’s something called music thanatology, defined by Music-Thanatology Association International as:

a professional field within the broader sub-speciality of palliative care. It is a musical/clinical modality that unites music and medicine in end of life care. The music-thanatologist utilizes harp and voice at the bedside to lovingly serve the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the dying and their loved ones with prescriptive music.

Training programs for music thanatologists are currently only offered in the United States, although graduates of these programs work in many different parts of the world, including England, Japan, Israel, Scotland and the Netherlands.

To date, however, there is only one certified music thanatologists in Australia! His name is Peter Roberts and you can read more about him in The Sound of Comfort, an article published in Australian Ageing Agenda.

It’s an inspiring read! And The Harp and The Ferryman, a book Peter co-authored with Helen Cox, is definitely on my ‘books to read’ list, although time to do so has so far eluded me.

Peter is based in Geelong at the Institute of Music in Medicine, of which he is the founding director. So if you would like to learn more, you can contact the Institute – details are on their website.


  1. We have some Music-Thanatology practitioners here where I live in Canada. I met them through my volunteer work with hospice. I’ve experienced the benefit myself – as a care-giver attending those sessions too, I valued them highly.

    I can also though support care-givers who sing and play appropriate music. Several volunteers in our local hospice group sing to their clients by request.

    Even in my own family situation. My dad loved country music. In his last few weeks – while I cared for him we listened to country music The music created a bridge of connection between us. Memories, laughter, singing – it was all present – and it is still with me.

  2. Thank you Anne … what wonderful moments. For my dad too, music was so important. In his case it was trad jazz. I will always feel happy we were able to take his keyboard in to hospital for him during the week or so before he passed away and he was able to play again for a while as well.

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