Companion Voices are groups of people who meet to learn songs and prepare together for singing to bring comfort, usually at the bedsides of people who are dying. When groups are ready, this singing then happens, on request and by arrangement. Judith founded Companion Voices in early 2014 with a single group in Brighton, and we have gradually expanded to a number of groups around the UK and became a Community Interest Company – CIC – in 2019. For more information, please visit www.companionvoices.org or see the short overview below.
Since March 2020, the learning groups have continued to meet online and deepen our connections with each other and with the songs, exploring new ways of sharing our support with those we wish to serve. So far these have included creating some new recordings, made remotely and available to download from our website and developing our Facebook Page to invite more conversation, sharing of stories and information that can help us all continue to prepare. Since the advent of Covid-19, it has become even more vital to talk about death, to prepare for it, to make our wishes known… All this and more is what CV aims to gently encourage.
Learning groups typically have up to sixteen participants, with the idea of creating close-knit and trusting relationships – vocally and emotionally. Participants pay to be part of the learning groups and, after an initial session to be sure there is a good fit with the group, commit to blocks of sessions; these are not drop-in singing groups and a steady set of people is necessary. It is intended that, as soon as possible, funding be found so that participants may join learning groups free of charge.
At any time, people who would like to have singing for themselves or a friend or family member, can contact their local group and arrange for a small number (probably between two and four members) to come and sing. This may take place in a family home, residential home, hospital, hospice or wherever the person happens to be. There is no charge for this, though if people want to make a donation to Companion Voices they are free to do so.
Companion Voices’ songs are chosen to serve the purpose of creating a soundscape for people that will be comforting, relaxing and undemanding. To this end, they are simple and repetitive, drawn from a wide range of different traditions, and may have words in languages unknown to the recipient. Singers are trained to sing these songs but also to respond intuitively in the moment, perhaps improvising, taking the volume up or down, tapering to a single voice, hum or whatever seems the best fit.
It is possible for more familiar songs to be woven in on the request of the recipient, their friends or family, but this is not the real thrust of the idea: the singing is not for the purpose of entertainment or ‘cheering up’, but more to accompany and honour the person or people receiving it; not to pull them back towards life and the familiar but to allow them to progress forward knowing they are not alone; to give them a sense that their experience is held and acknowledged by the singers and their voices as they take their leave of life.
You can hear our songs on our dedicated website, which also contains much more information about Companion Voices and, while we can’t sing at bedsides in person at the moment, all the songs we’ve recorded are available in full and without cost from the website. www.companionvoices.org