Visits last from five minutes to an hour, depending on the reception the volunteers receive. Part of their contract is to practice and train together weekly, learning repertoire and providing support for their bedside visits.
“We are spiritual caregivers who use music to give comfort,” Turner said. “We try to meet the person in the bed, where they are and what they need.
“On a few privileged occasions, I have been able to accompany someone’s last breath,” Turner said. “I call it midwifery at the end of life.”
Gentle Voices’ mission is not to cheer but rather to connect, promote reminiscing and peace. If the person is sad or angry, the group adjusts its songs to fit. The ensemble has no religious affiliation and represents many faiths, occupations and cultures.
“If someone is very sad, we sing our saddest song,” Turner said. “It is the practice of being entirely present and in the moment with another person. It is ‘be here now,’ the common goal of all meditative practices.”
The ideal number for any bedside is two or three singers. This allows for best harmonies but prevents overwhelming the listener.
“We sit at eye level and close to each other,” Turner said.
They are not there to perform.
“We don’t do a performance,” she said. “We go in and try to use music as a vehicle of connection. People open like a flower, especially dementia patients. Music is transformative.”
One of the singers, Ann Bardeen of West Newbury, said she believes that the power of song lives within our subconscious.
“Songs reside deep in our memories, and hearing them allows us to reach back and access bits of our past,” she said. “Somehow, people whose speech seems to have no meaning will sing along with us, recalling lyrics from decades ago.”