Bettina Gellinek Turner is certain that harmonious voices raised in song can heal the spirit.
Putting her beliefs into practice over the past four years, she has given comfort to the sick, the sad, the angry and the dying by conducting a small ensemble of singers.
“I found out that music was the best way to communicate with people at the end of their lives,” Turner said. “Many of the people we sing for are lonely, if not starved for the sound of a gentle voice.”
With courage as her guide and music in her background, she created a local collaborative singing group and aptly named it Gentle Voices. The group has been ministering to the bedsides of people since 2010.
Turner had been singing at bedside for years before Gentle Voices. She holds a degree in music education from Folkwang University of the Arts in Germany, her home country. She also received a certificate in music therapy and media therapy and a master’s degree in expressive therapy from Lesley University.
In the 1990s, Turner worked as a creative arts therapist, making her rounds in nursing homes and hospices as a musical one-woman band, lugging a keyboard, sheet music and a little folding stool.
Her inspiration to go further was a “tiny, birdlike” woman with a musical name: Flora Nightingale was a bedridden woman who communicated with blinks of her “bright blue eyes” and nods of her “white, wisp-covered head.”
On one nursing home visit, Turner discovered that Nightingale was also a German immigrant.
“I decided to sing some German folk songs,” Turner said. “If this tiny, little old lady could have jumped out of bed, she would have. She became completely electrified, her eyes never leaving my face, nodding and blinking to keep going, keep going.”
Today, Turner still totes a small folding stool from room to room, but she has replaced the keyboard with other female voices. The a cappella group sings for free in small ensembles in nursing homes, hospices and homes.