Message from Mark
Playing Kalimba in Hospice

Mark Holdaway

I have been playing kalimba for 24 years, half of my life, and I am in a position of strength when it comes to the kalimba. It is a comfort to me in times of darkness, and I love to offer it as a comfort to others.

You don't have to play kalimba for 24 years to use this instrument in hospice. I invite you to read about how Michelle Erfurt is already using the kalimba in music therapy after only a few weeks, and be sure to check out her beautiful video of "Up On the Roof." Well done, Michelle!

I am now so familiar with the kalimba that I can just open up my heart, give a little prayer to God to ask for the notes to come and... they come! Wonderful songs with beautiful melodies and gentle harmonies, in a rhythm and tempo that holds my spirit right where it needs to be and, I trust, right where the persons I am playing for need to be as well.

Sometimes I use the kalimba to create a beautiful backdrop to words that may be difficult to hear but need to be spoken. In this newsletter, my wife Deb tells the story of how we companioned her mother as she was dying this past March. With Deb's mom, I told the story of her life, which included a dark period when her family broke apart, but also how she overcame the darkness and ended up living out her life leaning towards love.

I also played songs that were deeply meaningful to Deb's mom, songs from her childhood that bent the arc of her life into a circle, connecting the end with the beginning. "Wayfarin' Stranger" and "Red River Valley", two songs which I played for Deb's mom, are tabulated in the Kalimba Americana Download for Alto Kalimba. If you are interested in playing music for elders who are in poor health or who are dying, this collection can be a great resource for you. I also direct you to the Treble Hymnal or the Alto Hymnal, if you believe sacred songs would be positive music for the dying person.

Remember, playing music in a hospice setting is not about you, it is about the person you are playing for. You may find yourself learning songs for the dying person that you would not have chosen for yourself - to give them something special to hold onto in those final days or hours. But these songs may end up becoming a gift from that person to you. And that is how a gift should be—both giver and receiver end up getting blessed.

—Mark Holdaway, July 8, 2010



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