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Posts from the ‘Music for Healing’ Category

A Memorial Song for a Strong Woman

Lately, this song has come to mind for a couple of memorial services I’ve co-created with families, for very strong women who inhabited their Mother Archetype with a fierce tenderness. It is an entrancing arrangement to me, composed by Bobby McFerrin. I love the passage as it stands on its own, although this gives a whole fresh breath of life into the healing qualities of the phrases. If you have ever given your voice to acapella song, you can appreciate this group’s harmonies:

The lyrics push thought boundaries as ‘he’ is replaced with ‘she’ in the Psalm’s wording — and some people bristle at this. However, it is a song McFerrin dedicated to his mother and her enduring love. A Mother’s love is for some people, the source of life, similar to the love of God (if belief in God is present). I offer this as an option for anybody who can think beyond the boundaries of he or she, beyond God having a gender. All it takes is simply relating to the divinity of LOVE. Here are the lyrics:

The Lord is my Shepard, I have all I need,
She makes me lie down in green meadows,
Beside the still waters, She will lead.

She restores my soul, She rights my wrongs, 
She leads me in a path of good things,
And fills my heart with songs.

Even though I walk, through a dark and dreary land,
There is nothing that can shake me,
She has said She won’t forsake me,
I’m in her hand.

She sets a table before me, in the presence of my foes,
She anoints my head with oil, 
And my cup overflows.

Surely, surely goodness and kindness will follow me,
All the days of my life,
And I will live in her house,
Forever, forever and ever.

Glory be to our Mother, and Daughter,
And to the Holy of Holies,
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be,
World, without end. Amen

By, Bobby McFerrin

Live music at a Memorial?

Yes! Or at a Celebration of Life . . . or any kind of meaningful remembrance. You might think, “Okay – maybe in a church. I’ve seen that.” True, a pipe organ or a church choir may fit the bill beautifully well in a congregational setting.

What happens when the ceremony is outdoors though – in a back yard, local park or special place like the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum or Tucson Botanical Gardens?  These are the types of settings the families with whom I work often choose for their custom ceremonies of remembrance. And live music can work incredibly well. I’ve seen families incorporate live guitar, harp, drums, accordion, bagpipes and vocalists. (Never all at once!)

Folks seem to default to pre-recorded music playing before, during or after ceremonies. With the accessibility of iPod speaker docks and other technology, music can be woven into a ceremony with the help of tech-savvy friends. However, I am writing this post as a huge proponent of musicians performing LIVE music, for three main reasons:

  • Receiving the vibrations of live sound feels cathartic. When you hear and feel live bagpipes, accordion, violin, guitar, drums, cello or acapella human voices – in person – what happens? Most likely, emotions rise to the surface and stir your spirit. Live music can stir the heart and soul with a power greater than spoken word or pre-recorded music.
  • Reflecting on an honoree’s life while hearing a song he or she loved played live is uplifting. Times in our lives and our relationships can be defined by hearing a single song or even a set of powerful lyrics. When music is carefully chosen by kin surrounding the honoree, and performed live, I witness a hard-to-describe ‘tingle’ while connections come alive and people feel uplifted.
  • Sensing a shared response to the music from everyone gathered builds a community experience. I have witnessed mutually recognized tears, nods, laughter and movement – even a standing ovation! – all expressed in response to live music during memorials and celebrations of life.

This is Part One of my wee ‘opinion’ post about live music . . . stay tuned for Part Two where I’ll list resources for live musicians who bring their talents to ceremony spaces in Tucson!

For now, just dream of what it would be like to see have Yo-Yo Ma at a ceremony playing this timeless piece from the Bach Cello Suite:

Elegant Memorial Song

This morning a student of mine shared this song with our class. It is so moving and potentially perfect for including in a memorial or celebration of life, I am promptly sharing it with you. Quite happily, I teach Fundamentals of Celebrancy for the Celebrant Foundation & Institute. We look at the theory and practice behind creating custom ceremonies for couples and families. Through this work, I continually stretch myself as a Life-Cycle Celebrant, and learn from my amazingly talented students.

Here are the song lyrics, in case while listening you are carried away into the song and don’t catch all the words:

Carry, by Tori Amos

Love, hold my hand
Help me see with the dawn
That those that have left
Are not gone
But they carry on
As stars looking down
As nature’s sons
And daughters of the heavens
You will not ever be forgotten by me
In the procession of the mighty stars
Your name is sung and tattooed now on my heart
Here I will carry, carry, carry you


You have touched my life
So that now
Cathedrals of sound are singing, are singing
The waves have come to walk with you
To where you will live in the land of you,
Land of you
You will not ever be forgotten by me
In the procession of the mighty stars
Your name is sung and tattooed now on my heart
Here I will carry, carry, carry you
Here I will carry, carry, carry you


P.S. Tori is playing a character in this video, because the album ‘Night of Hunters’ is a song cycle about a couple’s relationship told from the woman’s perspective on a night in Ireland, where she meets two spirits: Ariel and the Fire Muse.

Sending light with song at Memorials

More likely than not, you have experienced the power of song during a Celebration of Life or Memorial, yes? Maybe you felt goosebumps wash over you. Or maybe the song was so cathartic, it opened up whatever held back your unshed tears.

I am fresh from a retreat where I sang for nearly three days – during a Southwest Gathering of Threshold Choirs – led by our founder Kate Munger. I attended with two other sisters from Tucson, joining a circle of women from Taos, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Colorado Springs, Silver City, Austin and more. Together, we felt first hand the power of healing songs; written to celebrate life, acknowledge love, provide support and soothe the pangs of loss. I am feeling enormously blessed for being a member of the Tucson Threshold Choir. Thus, needed to share here what a resource we are locally, regionally and nationally.

Here is an ‘introductory’ video, featuring the ‘Grandmother’ of our Choir movement, Kate:


Here are a few song lyrics to go with what you hear in this video:

“I am sending you light / To heal you / To hold you / I am sending you light / To hold you in love”

This is an example of a song we recently sang, at a bi-annual Celebration of Life for a Tucson Hospice. We sing to people in various settings, not only at bedside. The songs are simple and beautiful. Our Choirs’ sounds reach out to help people remember and heal with love.

Please feel free to write with any questions or comments about the Threshold Choir movement and the music we create!

Tips for choosing Music

I’m fresh from a head-to-toe goose bump experience that compels me to write. It happened at the Celebration of Life I led last weekend. And it had to do with musical performance.

Picture Author - DJ1 from Naperville, USA License

Bagpiper ~ Image via Wikipedia

We’ve all heard the tune Amazing Grace countless times, right? Maybe via someone singing or bagpipes playing. (Always better than a recording!) I even sang it once for a family at a graveside committal. It was the first time the song’s meaning reallly sunk into me. It is a beautiful tune with compelling lyrics, despite being mildly omnipresent at memorials.

Back to my goose bump experience, though. Have you ever heard Amazing Grace played on the accordion? By a man, eyes closed, with a stance so grounded he looks to be summoning the Divine right up from the earth through his very feet? And then the Divine comes literally flowing out of his instrument directly into people’s hearts?

Well, there it is. That is what I witnessed. Unreal. With his utterly transcendent musical talent, he reached into people’s hearts with so much grace, the notes felt sacred. Tears were flowing. I swear, the vibrations of every note he played sent healing waves of release into every fiber of our beings. The feeling in the room was surreal. The deceased’s son and daughter jumped to their feet with applause saying, “thank you, thank you!”.

What an exquisite musical choice, made entirely by the family!

This experience along with others, leads me to offering a few tips for musical choices during any celebration, whether focused on new life, love or even loss. Here is what I observe that makes a difference:

  • Family connection to the musician(s). When the family or friends surrounding the honorees really know the musician or musical group, the selection and performance is guided by shared values. Given expectations are spelled out clearly, this makes the music more relevant and full of meaning for everyone attending.
  • Personal history with the music and lyrics. Even if the music is recorded, if the song transports you to a memorable time, it has powerful resonance. It may transport a couple during their wedding to that moment they first met. It may remind a mourning family of when the deceased shone in life. The more shared the history, the more poignant hearing the music becomes.
  • Placing the music at a pivotal point in the ceremony. This may take some stepping back to consider the emotional arc of the whole ceremony. For example, with this accordion performance I’m gushing about: it occurred right after I delivered tough words to hear. Honest words about the nature of the death we were present to grieve. The music kindled a space for emotional expression that was needed, right then, and not a moment later.

As I write, I am so thankful for having these experiences and sharing my observations with you. This is wondrous work families do when they celebrate their loved one’s lives. I am humbled to support families as a ceremonial guide. And as this post attests, I am energized by walking beside them!

Singing at the Threshold

I first heard Threshold Choir members sing in person a few years ago. I immediately felt called to join. Choir members sing softly in small groups at the bedside of people who are living and dying. I have CDs like ‘Tenderly Rain’ and listen to the songs often, finding great comfort in them. I also offer the songs to clients with whom I work, in memorial or home funeral settings.

I finally found my way to our Tucson choir earlier this month. Wahoo! What an energetic bunch of creative women. After only a couple of rehearsals, I am overjoyed to sing with them. If you are not familiar with this group, here is an introductory video that gives you a chance to listen.

If you check out the video, you’ll meet Kate Munger, the founder and lead director of Threshold Choir. She is an amazing beam of creative light. I love how she says:

“there is no audition process to join the choir. All I ask is that you ‘feel the shiver’ when you hear our work. That seems to be enough.”

And truly, that is what happened to me, along with tears of joy. 🙂

Last night during our choir practice, I thought so frequently of the people in Japan who mourn and face unknowable losses. As they come to terms with the devastation following the quake and tsunami, I wish them peace somehow. As many of us do right now, I grieve from afar. From way across the Pacific – after we sang through the evening – the aching grief I feel was somewhat soothed. The uplifting powers of music continually amaze me. Especially it seems, during the most emotionally fragile times of loss.

If you are reading this and feel curious about a Threshold chapter in your area, you can look here. The organization is growing by the moment. New chapters may have formed that are not listed. I believe nationwide, there are thousands of women lifting their voices in song for people at the threshold.

Please comment below, if you are reading this in Tucson and interested in joining or in having our choir members sing for a person you love. We will connect.