Giving the gift of song: Eventide Singers, who serenade those in hospice care, to perform ‘thank you’ concert March 10

Members of the Eventide Singers pose for a photo during a rehearsal at the Second Congregational Church of Greenfield.

Members of the Eventide Singers pose for a photo during a rehearsal at the Second Congregational Church of Greenfield. FOR THE RECORDER/AALIANNA MARIETTA

Music Director Joe Toritto, at left, leads the Eventide Singers during a rehearsal at the Second Congregational Church of Greenfield.

Music Director Joe Toritto, at left, leads the Eventide Singers during a rehearsal at the Second Congregational Church of Greenfield. FOR THE RECORDER/AALIANNA MARIETTA

Music Director Joe Toritto leads the Eventide Singers during a rehearsal at the Second Congregational Church of Greenfield.

Music Director Joe Toritto leads the Eventide Singers during a rehearsal at the Second Congregational Church of Greenfield. FOR THE RECORDER/AALIANNA MARIETTA

By AALIANNA MARIETTA

For the Recorder

Published: 03-01-2024 11:43 AM

Modified: 03-04-2024 10:57 PM


The Second Congregational Church will host an annual performance by the Eventide Singers, an a capella group of volunteers who serenade individuals in hospice care and their loved ones with the sacredness of song, on Sunday, March 10, at 3 p.m.

“We bring the gift of music,” explained Barbara Buschner of Northfield, who joined the group in 2008, a year after its start in October 2007. “We all have things that we can do in the world; some people are great at cooking, some people are great at child care … For us, a way that I think a lot of singers want to participate in the world is by singing; giving voice to concepts and beliefs and beautiful poetry.”

According to Eventide Singers’ music director, Greenfield resident Joe Toritto, the group sang at 57 engagements in 2023, including private sings at listeners’ homes and group sings at hospice, assisted living, nursing and retirement homes across Greenfield, Amherst and Northampton. Of the 25 singers, Toritto said eight typically sing for the ill and their caretakers, friends and family.

“We don’t consider ourselves performers — we are communities,” said Judith Williams, a Greenfield resident who joined in 2011 after the group sang for her mother. Eventide harmonized the South African hymn, “Thuma Mina” in Zulu, which translates to “send me,” while Williams listened with her mother. “In this intimate setting, it really made the whole experience sacred.”

With hearing being the second sense to develop and the last to leave, Buschner describes listening to Eventide’s singing at the end of one’s life as “almost cyclical.” The singers described listeners moving to the melody of classics like “Hallelujah,” Taizé chants, or original songs written by Williams. In their beds, their feet may bounce or relax, their shoulders may drop, their breathing may slow or speed up, their eyes may flutter under closed lids, and they may even smile.

For Alexa Berton, who started singing with Eventide in 2007, “Blending music, all being together in this moment completely focused on this one person … there’s just this feeling in the room that isn’t describable.”

Through music, lyrics embody messages and memories beyond the simple spoken word, Berton and Buschner added. “When you think about why people relate to different songs, there are songs that people just love maybe because they say something in their lyrics, or in the music, or in the tone of it that they wouldn’t be able to say in actual words,” Buschner explained.

For Berton, Williams and Bucshner, singing together for the ill and their loved ones demystifies the end-of-life transition. Instead of tucking death into a dark corner, Berton said Eventide “is welcoming it and being with it.” Buschner added, “This culture doesn’t have a great way of addressing death, so when we’re singing with this as an intention, we’re sort of kicking that a bit to the side, saying ‘No, we don’t want to be alone with these ideas or concepts or imminent circumstances in our families.’”

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As a therapist, Berton said when she tells people about Eventide, they often respond with, “Oh god, your life is full of serious stuff!” But for her, she “can’t imagine not doing it — it’s hard to describe, this is a joyous thing in many ways.”

According to Toritto, the March 10 concert is Eventide’s “thank you to the church” for providing the space for their bimonthly Sunday rehearsals. The suggested donation is $15 with proceeds going toward the Second Congregational Church. The group will sing 19 songs, including spiritual chants and tunes from the baby boomers’ generation as they begin to retire and transition, Toritto explained. Beyond music, two speakers will also share their experiences singing for their loved ones with Eventide.