Songs to Soothe the Soul
Virginia Smith spent the last months of her life sitting expressionless in her bed or on her sofa.
But when members of the Doylestown Comfort Choir went to her Northampton home one evening to sing to her, daughter Sherry Smith said, “Her face just lit up and glowed. She smiled. She actually tried to sing along with some of the songs.”
Virginia Smith, who died in January at the age of 90, had always loved music and sang with various choirs throughout her life.
Smith doesn’t know what kind of memories the songs brought up for her mother, but she knows the “sing” buoyed her mother’s spirits for that day. “Music kind of revived her,” her daughter said.
That was just what the Comfort Choir had hoped to do.
Choir members believe that music can comfort and heal the soul, and they sing at the bedside (or chairside) of the elderly and inﬁrm.
“I ﬁnd and, actually, research shows, that music can be so soothing,” said Betsy Payn, one of the organizers of the choir. “It can reduce stress and pain levels. It’s one more way to reach people. If we’re singing to somebody who truly might be on the threshold of passing, we’re hoping we’re reaching them.”
Payn said she also believes music brings comfort to family members.
Payn, Ginny Reilly and Yvonne Lorenz, all of Doylestown Township, started the Doylestown Comfort Choir early in 2010. Reilly had read a magazine article about a woman in California who started an organization there called the Threshold Choir.
The Threshold Choir sings for people who are at turning points in life — in comas, recovering from comas or dying — to help calm and comfort their spirit through the transition.
Reilly wanted to start something similar to the Threshold Choir and asked Payn, who is the hospice liaison for Doylestown Hospital, to help her get started. Reilly had sung with Lorenz in a choir in the past and asked her to help direct the Comfort Choir. She also reached out to other women she had sung with over the years, and almost 30 women said they’d love to join the group.
Lorenz chose the music — songs such as “Amazing Grace” and “All Through the Night.” She said she and Reilly wanted to use songs that were “maybe familiar and some that were not familiar, but had comforting words about peace and love.”
The full choir met once a month to practice the music, and divided into smaller groups of six to visit hospice patients at Pine Run, Neshaminy Manor, Golden Living and Heritage Towers.”
What we found is you couldn’t just walk in there and sing to a hospice patient because the other patients would want to listen,” Payn said.
The choir started singing to other residents of the nursing homes. The residents then started making requests; they wanted to hear patriotic songs and songs from their youth.
So the choir expanded its repertoire and its mission.”
I think what we want to do is bring comfort to people,” Reilly said. “And we have seen it happen.”
The choir visited one woman who was very agitated and didn’t want to go to bed. The women sang a lullaby and the woman calmed down and went to sleep.
When the choir visited 97-year-old Josephine Craig at Pine Run skilled nursing center last week, Craig closed her eyes, let the choir’s song wash over her and relaxed. Another resident sat up in her chair with a big smile on her face and rocked back and forth as the choir sang to her.
The choir members then walked down the hall to the dining room, where they sang to a group of residents, some of whom sang along to “Jingle Bells” and other Christmas carols.
Many people sing along with the Christmas carols and songs from their youth, like the Pine Run residents and Virginia Smith did. Lorenz said, “They may not remember what they ate for breakfast or who visited them, but they do remember those words. It sparks some memory in them.”
The choir members love seeing how hospice patients and nursing home residents react to their songs.“
We get as much, if not more, out of the sings as the people we sing to,” Reilly said. “Most people in the group would describe it as a blessing.”