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Conversations on themes and music-thanatology in 'The Undertaking' Sept. 8

A scene from
A scene from "The Undertaking." Credit Zach Hyman.

A conversation on the themes explored in the theatrical work “The Undertaking” and on the practice of music-thanatology will be explored in a panel discussion of experts on Thursday, Sept. 8 at 7 p.m. in the 1941 Room, College Center at Crozier-Williams.

“The Undertaking,” a new theatrical work by the investigative theater company The Civilians, explores the “ ‘Near-Death Experience,’ when someone goes to the beyond and back and can then tell us what’s there on the other side.” It will be performed by The Civilians on Saturday, September 17, at 7:30 Palmer Auditorium presented by the onStage Guest Artist Series.

The conversation participants include:

  • Steve Cosson, writer and director of “The Undertaking” and artistic director of The Civilians
  • Jennifer Hollis, music-thanatologist, a 1995 Connecticut College alumna and interview subject during the development of “The Undertaking”
  • Frederick Paxton, Brigida Pacchiani Ardenghi Professor of History with a specialty in death, dying, sickness and healing, and a past visiting professor at the Chalice of Repose Project that trains music-thanatologists.

As described by Hollis, hers is “a professional field that utilizes harp and vocal music to serve dying patients and their loved ones. During a music vigil, the music-thanatologist responds moment by moment to the patient’s needs using music in a prescriptive way.”

From 1994-2002, Frederick Paxton was a visiting professor at the Chalice of Repose Project, in Missoula, Montana. His master's thesis, “A Medieval Latin Death Ritual: The Monastic Customaries of Bernard and Ulrich of Cluny” (University of Washington, 1980), was published for students in the Project by St. Dunstan's Press in 1993. According to the founder of music-thanatology, Therese Schroeder-Sheker, Paxton's work placed this recent addition to palliative care of the dying in historical context.

Hollis was a student of Paxton’s when she learned from him of the field of music-thanology. After graduation, she moved to Montana, built a harp from a kit, and became certified. She has worked with the palliative care service at Lahey Hospital and Medical Center for ten years. From 2006-2012, she served as the president of the Music-Thanatology Association International.

Hollis, the author of “Music at the End of Life: Easing the Pain and Preparing the Passage,” has also written about music-thanatology in the New York Times: Providing the Soundtrack for Life’s Last Moments (On Work, August 2015) and Songs of Transition (The End series, December, 2015). Her writing has also appeared in The Washington Post, Sojourners, The Christian Century, The Progressive Magazine and other publications. She is currently working on a memoir. Learn more about Hollis’s work at her website

Tickets for Sept. 17 performance of “The Undertaking” at Palmer Auditorium can be purchased online.

September 8, 2016