It’s an expression Connie Jones has seen on a hospice patient’s face many times. It’s one of serenity moments after the Homeward Bound Hospice Choir begins a bedside sing.
Jones is the Miles and St. Andrews Home Health and Hospice coordinator. She schedules Homeward Bound performances at various Lincoln County assisted living facilities and homes. The choir has 20 members who began their bedside sings in 2016.
On April 16, the choir assembled bedside around a St. Andrews Village Gregory Wing resident. Prior to the music, Jones saw an elderly woman appearing “anxious” and “fidgety,” continuously touching her face and hair. All that changed once the choir began to sing. The woman’s hands came down and rested in her lap. Jones watched as the woman’s body became relaxed. But once the music stopped, her body reverted to its previous condition.
“It was clear to me the choir gave her peace and comfort. You really had to look for it, but it was really a beautiful thing to watch,” Jones said.
The choir has regular monthly performances at St. Andrews Village, Cove’s Edge in Damariscotta, Lincoln Home in Newcastle and the “Greens” (senior housing complexes in Boothbay and Edgecomb). Homeward Bound originated in 2016 after Jones and founding member Paula Christensen of Nobleboro attended a Miles Memorial luncheon.
Camden Solace, an a cappella choir group from Knox County, performed. The choir performs a mixture of spiritual, folk and pop music for an audience usually consisting of senior citizens nearing life’s end.
Camden Solace’s performance had a profound impact on the two Lincoln County women. “We kind of looked at each other, and thought the same thing,” Christensen said. “We should have something like this in our community.”
And Homeward Bound was born. Now all they needed were some choir members and a music director. They placed newspaper ads and contacted local churches and musical organizations seeking members. They also found a man who agreed to assist in developing the choir’s sound. Christensen and Peter Asche both attended the Second Congregational Church in Newcastle. Asche was assisting with the church choir and he agreed to direct Homeward Bound for six months. In that time, membership grew and the choir began performing at local assisted living facilities.
Asche taught a core group of songs including “Amazing Grace” and other religious hymns and non-secular music. The choir has a catalog of over 20 songs including pop and folk music. Regardless of the genre, most songs have a common topic: Death. One of the more popular selections is "Parting Glass," an Irish pub song Christensen described as a “good-bye” song.
For the past year, Gordon Isleib of Damariscotta has served as de facto choir leader. Isleib sang in the high school glee club and college chorus. His duties are primarily making the choir’s sound consistent, ensuring proper timing and that everybody sings together. Isleib is one of those who answered the newspaper ad two years ago seeking choir members.
Isleib doesn’t like solos, but he enjoys singing his bass parts in a group. He also likes another part of being a Homeward Bound choir member. Isleib appreciates how the group comforts those struggling to remember “who they are.” Isleib described the choir’s music as comforting patients with memorable music and lyrics from their past.
Isleib knows patients enjoy the music based on their happy, smiling faces during a performance.
“What attracted me is the ministry aspect of the choir. I feel I’m contributing to one’s well-being, especially a hospice patient's, who might not be here all that long,” he said.
Homeward Bound generally spends two hours at an assisted living facility during performance days. The choir warms up for 30 minutes, then typically performs two 45-minute shows. One is in an activity room large enough for all those healthy enough to attend. The second is bedside performances in private rooms.
The choir makes house calls for hospice patients living at home. A small group will perform at a person’s bedside during a home visit, according to Isleib.