By Carey Landry, BCC
In my 20 years as a chaplain, I have witnessed many instances in which music has played a significant role, from families singing around the bedside of their dying loved one, to the gentle sounds of a harp bringing comfort and peace to patients and their families, and to music therapists using the rhythms of a song as cadence for someone learning to walk again. Instances of the power of music are too many to name here.
Music is and has been an integral part of my chaplaincy ministry. Some might think that, because I am a pastoral musician, I am constantly singing for patients and that I go around with a guitar all the time. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, where music is concerned, “less is sometimes more,” in that it is only when we use music appropriately that its full effect is felt. In this article, I would like to share with you the variety of ways I use the gift of music with our patients, families and associates. I will use examples of my own music, including examples of adaptations I have made to certain songs, in order to make them more meaningful for specific instances of ministry. However, I want you to know that I use the music of many different composers in my ministry, including many well-known Protestant hymns. This is not a technical paper or treatise. I simply want to share with you today moving moments of grace, when music played an important, yet simple role.
Music at the bedside of one of who is dying
I have often sung a capella at the bedside of patients who are dying. This has happened when I was able to establish a good relationship with the patient and the family. It is meant to be comforting and peaceful. In one most memorable moment I was singing, “When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation, and take me home.”(from the fourth verse of “How Great Thou Art”) when the patient went home to the Lord. This was such a grace-filled, comforting moment for the family and for me. Discernment is necessary, but time and again I have found hymns and songs to be comforting to families when a loved one is dying. In several instances I have been invited by families to conduct the funeral service of their loved one after singing and praying with them at bedside.
This is different from the musical thanatology that is practiced (usually in hospice settings) by those trained to do so. For those of you wanting more information concerning this, I refer you to Strings of Compassion, Sacred Heart Medical Center, P.O. Box 10905, Eugene, OR. 97440-9904 www.peacehealth.org/stringsofcompassion A beautiful recording from this source, titled Loom of Love, is a valuable resource.
Music of healing at bedside
In a very recent encounter, I sang the refrain and verse 2 of my own song, “Lay Your Hands.” (OCP) I have adapted the words of the refrain to focus more on healing in these instances. For those of you familiar with the hymn, these are the words I use for the refrain, with some slight adjustments to the melody:
Lay your hands gently upon her/him. Let their touch bring her your peace.
Let them bring her recovery and healing. Lay your hands gently, lay your hands.
The patient, in this case, was intubated and sedated, but the song and prayer so touched her husband that he invited me to come back and pray daily with her. I am very pleased to say that this patient is now clear and lucid and doing much better today, and I sang the song again for her recently. I encourage you to use soothing songs with which you are familiar or those requested by the family. I do find, however, that patients and families are often more moved by meaningful songs that are new to them than by familiar hymns. Such was the case with “Lay Your Hands.”
Music for Memorial Services
Memorial Services throughout the year are greatly enhanced by the use of music, especially music everyone can sing, such as “Amazing Grace,” and “On Eagle’s Wings.” My own hymn, “We Will Remember You,” which we introduced at the 2008 NACC National Conference in Indianapolis, and which has been used at the NACC conference each year since, is a hymn that families find most comforting. If you are unaware of the hymn, go to www.ocp.org You will be able to hear a portion of it and you will be able to download it if you wish. I have used “Isaiah 49: I Will Never Forget You”(OCP) at our Neo-Natal Memorial Services for families of infants who have died. I have also used “Isaiah 49” at the “Naming Ceremony” ritual we use when a fetal demise occurs.
Music for Healing Services
If you go to www.nacc.org and type “Healing Services” in the Search bar, the first article to pop up is one I wrote for a past issue of Vision. There I describe a ritual for healing services as well as examples of music.
Music at Christmas with associate “choir”
One of the “traditions” we have established in our hospital is that of singing Christmas carols for (and often with) our patients. Patients and their families have especially appreciated those times when a group of associates sang throughout the hospital. Our associates look forward to this each year. I always tell them, “Talent is not required; just the desire to bring joy to our patients.” I provide bells and other rhythmic instruments and we make a joyful “noise” unto the Lord.
Music for the Associates’ Christmas Party
Closely related to the above is the annual Christmas party we have for the families of our associates. Two associates play the role of “Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus” and gifts are given to the children of the associates who attend. I spend time singing with the children before the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Claus.
Music for commissionings of servant-leaders
Twenty years ago I was hired by St. Vincent Health as chaplain and music resource person. Since then I have been the music minister at the commissionings of many CEOs, directors and managers. I was led to write the song “Servant-Leaders” and it is used at all commissionings in our system. I offer it to you as an attachment to this article. You will find the music scores and an instrumental MP3 in one of the attachments, and a choral rendition of the song in the other attachment. The song is copyrighted but has never been published, and I invite you to use it as you wish. I only ask that you let me know when and how you have used it (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Music for mission and mentoring graduations
Each year I am invited to provide music for the graduation ceremonies of those who have completed the mission and mentoring program offered at Seton Cove, a retreat center for associates at St. Vincent-Indianapolis. I use my song “By Name I Have Called You” (OCP) in a special adaptation. The leaders of the program give me the names of those graduating, and, after I lead everyone in a meditation on the importance of our own names and how we are called “by name” by our God, I sing the refrain of the song. I continue to play softly as I call out the names of those graduating. Each one comes forward to receive their diploma as I call out their name. If the group is large, I will do half the names, repeat the refrain, then call out the second half and repeat the refrain again. Then, after a blessing prayer by the staff over the graduates, we all sing “Companions on the Journey” as they go forth to serve in their own ministries. We have always had positive feedback after this ritual. (The ritual using “By Name I Have Called You,” with the calling out of names, can be used in other circumstances affirming associates.)
Meditational music with bariatric patients
I wrote an article for the September/October 2009 issue of Vision describing my ministry with bariatric patients. Type ‘bariatric patients’ in the Search bar and that article is the first one to pop up. Within that article is a paragraph titled, “Ministry to Patients Before Surgery.” It is in that paragraph that I describe the musical meditation I provide using my own version of “Be Still and Know That I am God.” (OCP)
Praying with the songs we sing
I sometimes use songs that I love to sing for personal prayer and meditation. One morning I was praying “Lectio Divina” with John Bell’s wonderful hymn, “The Summons.” I was especially moved by the text of verse 3, “Will you kiss the leper clean, and do such as this unseen.…” I was struck that this is such a clear expression of the ideal of our ministry as chaplains — that we are called to be with the most marginalized and do all that we do without need for recognition. I invite you to look again — in prayer — at some of the songs and hymns that you love, and let them re-speak to you and re-call you to this sacred ministry of “kissing lepers clean.”
The examples I have given in this article come from my own experience, and I welcome you to share with me experiences you have had. If you wish to do so and/or if you have questions concerning anything I have presented here, please feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com
Carey Landry is a chaplain at St. Vincent-Carmel Hospital in Carmel, IN, and a composer of Catholic liturgical music.
Servant-Leaders original (PDF)
Servant-Leaders keyboard/vocal score (PDF)
Servant-Leaders guitar/vocal score (PDF)
Servant-Leaders melody score (PDF)
Servant-Leaders (mp3 audio file)
Servant-Leaders Choral Rendition (DOC)
Carey’s page at the Oregon Catholic Press (OCP) website: www.ocp.org/artists/698