Soliloquy in the Chapel
Kirsten Davis, the SPH Music Therapist, recently had a unique experience. There was a patient in the Palliative Care Unit who had been a keen guitarist and songwriter in his youth. During his admission to the PCU he began playing again. The patient – who requested to be identified as ‘Hyperion’ – had an aggressive cancer. He made the choice to receive Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID).
Hyperion composed a piece of music called Soliloquy to describe coming to terms with his cancer diagnosis: “I have struggled to survive, only to find out that this MAID is the only answer. I want everyone out there to know what it’s like to make this decision”. Kirsten was able to assist Hyperion turn his lyrics, rhythms and melodies into a beautiful piece of choral music.
After several weeks of intense creative work in music therapy sessions Hyperion’s condition declined suddenly, and he died less than an hour before volunteer choristers arrived to sing his composition for the first time. Six singers, from locals choirs Via Choralis and the Peninsula Singers, offered to lend their voices, and were disappointed and saddened that they were not able to perform the piece for its composer. However, the singers worked with Kristen to polish the piece, and last week performed it in the SPH chapel for staff and volunteers to hear. It was a beautiful and powerful experience for everyone involved.
Singers: Janet Mitchell (Soprano 1), Michele Dolan (Soprano 2), Louise Javanovic (Alto), Harry Powell (Tenor), Mark Chase (Baritone), John Campbell (Bass)
The composer was in his early 70s. In the lyrics he poses all sorts of questions: questions about what might happen after he dies, about what the process of MAID might entail and how it will affect him. But the tone of Soliloquy is not mournful. Hyperion wanted a gospel sound with a moderate tempo and Kirsten was able to translate that to the final piece. She is a piano player but had not previously written a score for a choir and acknowledges she relied on help from John Myers to manage the musical arrangement.
The singers discovered, in the process of learning and practicing the piece, that they all had some shared connection to the ideas expressed. The experience of dying, of contemplating your own death, or that of a loved one, is universal and Hyperion’s questions had relevance to everyone involved in the performance. For Kirsten it was another reminder of the power and value of music therapy at the hospital. Music Therapy at SPH is funded by the Saanich Peninsula Hospital & Healthcare Foundation. The Peninsula Singers have donated nearly $50,000.00 over the past 10 years to support the Music Therapy program from proceeds from their annual shows.