HeartSong is a volunteer group of singers that offers the comforting embrace of unaccompanied song to those who are infirm, in pain or dying. The Belfast-area group’s work was begun in 2007 and its numbers have grown to about 20, although their typical “sing” gathers four to eight in the home and hospital settings they serve. But Monday night, April 30, HeartSong as a whole invites the whole community to its second “Soothing of Sorrows,” an evening of poetry and a cappella music offered for comfort and connection, at 7 p.m. in the Abbott Room of Belfast Free Library, 106 High St.

HeartSong’s service to people leaving this world intersects with those grieving that departure, an experience that led the group to consider a different way to share the comfort and presence their Sings can provide. “Soothing of Sorrows” is not really a performance, although the members do sing and read. It is, rather, an invitation to acknowledge that grief arises from many circumstances … and that grieving has no given timeline.

“It's meant to provide a space to acknowledge that grief and sorrows are something that can walk with us long beyond an event,” said Meg Queior, who coordinates the collaborative event.

The “Sorrows” to be soothed certainly include the death of a loved one, but there are many other ways we experience grief that needs soothing. The evening also is for people who have lost a job or a home or a relationship or health and mobility.

“It seemed like very close to what we do as HeartSong — providing a place that acknowledges that the process of naming grief, naming sorrow, in the context of connection and community, can also acknowledge hope and comfort and love,” Queior said.

Those may sound like broad ideals, she added, “but it's sort of the heartbeat of what we do. It matters when we show up for each other.”

Those who show up Monday night will find less of a concert setup and more of a gathering circle. Queior said the evening will be similar to last year’s, in that after the group introduces itself and talks a little about what it does, the singers will withdraw to the back of the room. Seating is arranged around a non-religious altar of sorts, a grouping of flowers, beautiful cloths, stones and gentle lighting.

“It’s a visual focus, something to reflect on. Folks have the freedom to be with their feelings, both in the presence of others, sharing with others, and yet at the same time, honoring the individuality and privacy of that,” Queior said.

The program, which runs less than an hour, will include some of songs in the HeartSong repertoire, as well as poetry – in one case, poetry set to music.

“We have a musical setting of Tennyson's poem ‘Crossing the Bar,’ but we also draw from poetry by Mary Oliver or David Whyte — their poetry that seeks to honor the full range of human emotion and response to both joy and sorrow,” she said.

Mariah Williams, the group’s musical director, said HeartSong is fortunate to have Queior, a former clergyperson, “who so skillfully and sensitively weaves beautiful secular and sacred readings with some of HeartSong's music and periods of stillness.” The group’s singers are both accomplished musicians and those who sing by ear; singing in blended tune with each other is the goal.

"There is beauty in an understated voice, an understated choir. Relax. Breathe in the moment,” Williams said. “In intimate singing, we are one with the singers around us and together, we weave a warm and comforting blanket of beautiful harmonies."

That comfortable blanket of sound is welcomed monthly at local nursing homes and usually twice a month at Waldo County General Hospital. The private sings are by often word-of-mouth invitation of families, friends and hospice workers.

“We are fortunate to have several accomplished musicians who act as Sing Leaders, who will organize a group from available folks,” said Missy Hatch, coordinator of the group. “We have a repertoire of about 50 songs, both secular and hymns, and will tailor the Sing according to the recipient’s preference.”

The uplifting nature of the HeartSong selections is one reason the volunteer singers keep coming to the group’s weekly practices at Belfast’s United Methodist Church, alternating between Sunday and Monday evenings to accommodate individual schedules. That consistency has seen the group grow musically in its 10-plus years, Williams said. Growth has come in other areas too, as the singers have borne witness to the travails and final hours of their fellow community members.

“The heart of HeartSong is connecting with those moments in people's lives. It really feels like part of the fabric of life together to be able to do this,” Queior said. “And it's also an opportunity for those who like to sing or who are drawn to this kind of a presence.”

Being present with loss sometimes means putting aside music and words. Interwoven with the “Soothing of Sorrows” songs and readings are intentional times of silence.

“People don't need to say anything when they come. Even though it’s a public space, we try to fashion it in ways that people can sit quietly in their own place,” Queior said.

People did have things to say after the 2017 program concluded. Attendees lingered to talk and share a little bit about why they were there and what they had experienced.

“Last April, there were tears of sadness, joy and connection. It was a rare opportunity to share such a meaning-filled and nurturing time together,” Williams said.

“Soothing of Sorrows” is also a rare opportunity for all, or almost all, the HeartSong members — who range from teens to 80-something — to sing together outside of rehearsal. New members are always welcome.

“We love it when people come up and ask afterwards if there's opportunity to sing,” Queior said. “And the answer to that is a wide-open ‘yes!’"

For more information about HeartSong, visit heartsongmaine.org. Those interested in singing with the group may call Williams at 585-6006 or Jean Goldfine at 338-3080.