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Musical duo brings comfort to residents at Seasons Hospice

Colleen Bartman and Mark Walsh play for patients, bringing joy and emotional healing for people facing their end of life.

Music at Seasons Hospice House
Mark Walsh and Colleen Bartman play music for a resident on Tuesday, May 24, 2022, at Seasons Hospice House in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — “Whether full of excitement or processing grief, music has a way of allowing you to express and feel what your body and mind need – that exact thing you may not be able to verbalize,” says Colleen Bartman.

This idea seems to be at the heart of her musical volunteer mission at Seasons Hospice. Every other Tuesday, Bartman takes her violin to meet flutist Mark Walsh at the Seasons Hospice house facility where they play music for its residents.

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Seasons Hospice provides end of life care for patients focused on “seeking comfort care with an emphasis on living life as fully and as comfortably as possible” rather than on “curing illness.”

Though no Tuesday performance is the same, Bartman says the first order of business is to touch base with the nursing staff to see how many patients are residing at the house.

“Sometimes we hear of a patient who is actively dying and has family at his or her bedside,” says Bartman. “We make note that they may decline music, or they may want a solemn tune. Sometimes we hear there are grandchildren visiting a patient celebrating a birthday, and we make note to play ‘Happy Birthday’ for that patient and his or her family.”

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In many ways Walsh and Bartman are very different from each other. Bartman, 32, is a senior research fellow at Mayo Clinic who is training to become an independently funded scientist. Walsh, 67, has a small advertising business and is a rep for a company that does cost segregation for commercial building owners.

Musically they also come from different worlds. Bartman started violin at age 10, played in youth symphonies, eventually earned a music scholarship during her undergraduate work, and played in chamber ensembles, and orchestras.

Walsh was a bass player in traveling bands when he played full time in his 20s and 30s. Then, in the 1990s, he started playing woodwinds. You might recognize his big laughs and personality from local groups like The Booker Mini Band and Thomas and the Shakes.

“Colleen is so good as a sight reader, and I am a limited reader at best,” says Walsh. “She doesn't improvise, so we kind of turn some songs into a combination of free form and structure,” he adds.

“We essentially have completely opposite skill sets,” says Bartman. “I am classically trained and read music for the violin. Mark can improvise, hear a popular tune, and recreate it on the flute.”

Despite their differences, Bartman and Walsh are in harmony with the fulfillment they feel by sharing their music with the patients at the Seasons Hospice house.

“Music is a shared experience between the performer and the listener,” says Bartman. “It’s a way for me to create an environment for the patient to share a bit of their story with me – whether painful or joyful – so that we can connect in a way that wouldn’t happen with words alone.”

Walsh says the way their music is received from room to room and week to week really varies. “We have had tears when we play a song that means a lot to someone,” he says. “We sometimes have people singing along.”

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Once, Walsh says, one of the residents had an accordion in his closet and when he got it out that led to a 20-minute jam session.

Walsh and Bartman met through their desire to volunteer at Seasons Hospice. The pair were connected by the facility’s volunteer coordinator in April 2021. For a few years before that, Walsh had been playing piano regularly at the hospice house, but now the pair are able to take their violin and flute duo from room to room.

The opportunity to share their music with the patients at Seasons Hospice is humbling for both Walsh and Bartman.

“I’m so grateful to have found such joy with my violin, and I feel it’s important to share that with others,” says Bartman.

“It often tends to put things into perspective for me about how we worry about petty little things in a busy world,” says Walsh. “All we really have is this moment.”

For more information

For information on how to volunteer at Seasons Hospice go to www.seasonshospice.org/volunteer-opportunities .

Related Topics: ROCHESTERMUSIC
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