Skip to main content

Family members' views on the benefits of harp music vigils for terminally-ill or dying loved ones

  • Linda Ganzini (a1) (a2), Alexa Rakoski (a3), Sharilyn Cohn (a4) and Richard A. Mularski (a5)

Music-thanatology is a palliative modality that uses harp and voice to provide bedside vigils, particularly for terminally ill or actively dying. We sought to determine the benefits of music vigils for terminally ill patients.


Survey of 55 family members, whose terminally ill loved one experienced a music vigil during hospitalization, regarding effects on the patient's breathing, relaxation, comfort, pain and ability to sleep. Written comments on negative and positive results of the vigils were coded using content analysis.


Family members perceived that the vigils resulted in modest improvement in the patients' breathing, relaxation, comfort, and ability to sleep, with fewer positive effects on pain, and almost no negative effects. Open ended comments focused on the positive benefit in increasing calm, relaxation, comfort. Comments on the positive effects for the family were almost as common as comments on the positive results for the patient.

Significance of Results:

The use of music-vigils in palliative care should be investigated more extensively as our study supports that this intervention has benefits, almost no risk, minimal cost, and may improve patient-family experience of the dying process.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Linda Ganzini, R&D 66, Portland VAMC, PO Box 1034, Portland, OR 97207; 503-220-8262. E-mail:
Hide All
Chalise of Repose Project. (2013). Available from: Accessed February 12, 2013.
Cox, H., & Roberts, P. (2007). From music into silence: an exploration of music-thanatology vigils at the end of life. Spirituality and Health International, 8, 8091.
Freeman, L., Caserta, M., Lund, D., et al. (2006). Music-thanatology: prescriptive harp music as palliative care for the dying patient. American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care, 23, 100104.
Ganzini, L., Johnston, W.S. & Hoffman, W.F. (1999). Correlates of suffering in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Neurology, 52, 14341440.
Horrigan, B.J. (2005). The Chalice of Repose Project. Explore: The Journal of Science & Healing, 1, 166167.
Hsieh, H. & Shanon, S.E. (2005). Three Approaches to Qualitative Content Analysis. Qualitative Health Research, 15, 12771288.
Murfin, S. & Haberman, M. (2007). Building the ship of death: part I. Explore: The Journal of Science & Healing, 3, 619622.
Music-Thanatology Association International. (2013). Available from: Accessed February 12, 2013.
SacredFlight. (2013). Available from: Accessed February 12, 2013.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Palliative & Supportive Care
  • ISSN: 1478-9515
  • EISSN: 1478-9523
  • URL: /core/journals/palliative-and-supportive-care
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed