Eventide Singers, who bring comfort and healing, have concert Feb. 16
From left are Walter Chudnohufsky, Joe Toritto, Patricia Raviele, Juanita Nelson, Marilyn Berthelette, Mary Johnson, Sandra Platt, Cheryl Termo, Amy Metzler-Clough and Alexa Berton. Recorder/Paul Franz
From top; Sandra Platt, Cheryl Termo, Amy Metzler-Clough and Alexa Berton. Recorder/Paul Franz
Juanita Nelson listens to the choir. Recorder/Paul Franz
Juanita Nelson smiles. Recorder/Paul Franz
Choir director Joe Toritto, Patricia Raviele, Juanita Nelson, and Marilyn Bertelette. Recorder/Paul Franz
Songs of Hope & Comfort Sunday
Eventide Singers is a local volunteer group that sings to people whose illness may confine them to their home or to a nursing home, and for the terminally ill and their caregivers. On Sunday, it will present a concert titled Songs of Hope and Comfort, at 3 p.m., at First Congregational Church of Greenfield, 43 Silver St., Greenfield. Loren Kramer, who is recovering from a surgery, listens to Eventide Singers at his home. See “Music.” Recorder/Paul Franz
The chorus ends its song, a heartfelt rendition of “This Little Light of Mine,” yet there is no applause.
Silence meets the performance by this small band of singers, as it often does. Instead, there is a sigh, a release, a quiet yet sincere “Thank You.”
In the case of this audience, 90-year-old Juanita Nelson, there’s no doubt of her appreciation for Eventide Singers, the Greenfield hospice choir; the sense of peacefulness and gladness of each song is clearly registered on her face.
“She absolutely loves it,” says Nelson’s longtime friend, Randy Kehler, a longtime social justice advocate who shares this Colrain home with Nelson, his wife, Betsy Corner, and Kip Moeller.
Despite the notion that hospice choirs sing only for those who are dying, Nelson has been physically healthy, although she can’t necessarily remember everything from her long life, including moving with her husband, Wally to do subsistence farming on Deerfield’s Woolman Hill in the early 1970s after taking part in sit-down protests in support of United Farm Workers and becoming tax resisters in 1948 as part of their opposition to war.
But Nelson, with short, grey, curly hair, can remember many of the freedom songs and gospel songs like “Precious Lord,” that she heard growing up, even though she’s quick to point out that she’s not a religious woman, Kehler says.
“She’s still got her sense of humor and she makes some wise remarks,” says Kehler, a member of the 24-person group of singers who came from Amherst, Northmpton, Brattleboro, Vt., and from around Franklin County to more than 60 “sings” in the past year. In addition to private homes where groups of maybe four to eight singers gather to offer healing and comfort, there are also “sings” at nursing homes or other group setting for multiple people. There are also concerts, like Eventide’s sixth anniversary benefit concert Feb. 16 at 3 p.m., at the First Congregational Church of Greenfield, 43 Silver St. The suggested donation ranges from $12 to $15.
As the group sings, Nelson claps along, and sometimes even sings along.
“Eventide is about community service that’s all about healing and nurturing the soul,” says Kehler, a chorus member who especially is drawn to prayerful songs of the Taize religious community.
Eventide members volunteer time for rehearsals and for being at sings, which Joe Toritto, Eventide director, says can range from what are literally end-of-life situations or memorial services to intimate sings for the housebound or as public concerts like benefits for Meals on Wheels.
“There are people who are in need of healing or comfort, or people who are home bound or lonely,” he says. “Music is a great way to connect.”
The singing, which may only take the form of a mellow chanting for a patient who is close to death, their eyes closed, can also be healing to the caregivers, family members and friends who are present, Toritto says. And the singing can also be an opportunity for them to release their emotions, share tears, or simply have a time to rest.
When you walk into a room, you never know what’s going to happen,” he says of situations that sometimes call for music that’s “soft but upbeat” or that may provide opportunities for quiet or for talking between songs.
“At Fisher Home the other night, we sang for a woman who never opened her eyes,” Toritio says. “She was sleeping, so we just chanted maybe four or five songs, we left and went to a few other people’s rooms and sang different kinds of songs. And then they asked us to go back in, because the folks noticed a shift in her breathing, and it was really helpful for her. So we went back in and continued mellow chanting.”
The songs may range from Rani Arbo’s setting of the Tennyson poem, “Crossing the Bar,” or Libby Roderick’s “How Could Anyone Ever Tell You” to “Deep River” or the South African hymn “Siyahamba.”
Yet despite the fact that many of the songs — in English, Latin, Hebrew, Greek, French, Zulu, Khosa, Georgian or other languages — are spiritual in nature, Toritto says they come out of different faiths. In fact, each sing is completely tailored to the wishes of whomever Eventide is singing for and the conditions of the moment.
For a labor organizer, members sang “Solidarity Forever” and “We Shall Not Be Moved,” as well as a favorite he’d often shared with his wife, “Red River Valley.”
Eventide sang for Ellie Lazarus of Ashfield every couple of months over a two-year period, before the signs of her cancer gradually took hold. “It brought her such immense joy, consistently,” recalls her friend, Jan Freeman. “It allowed her to be in this world, through music, in a way that otherwise would have been impossible.”
The singers brought Lazarus songs from around the world that she loved to sing along with or simply to listen and bask in their comfort, Freeman said.
“They were very sensitive to her condition.”
For Eventide’s public concerts, Toritto says, the mood can be a bit more upbeat, though still steeped in the power of celebrating life, and lives.
To watch Paul Franz’s video of Eventide singing with Juanita Nelson: http://goo.gl/V0lG0R.
Or, go online to YouTube and search for “Eventide Singers.”
On the Web: www.eventidesingers.com. The group can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Senior reporter Richie Davis has worked at The Recorder for more than 35 years. He can be reached at email@example.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 269.
Staff photographer Paul Franz has worked for The Recorder since 1988. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261 Ext. 266. His website is www.franzphoto.com.