Threshold Choir

Maya Angelou said, “Music was my refuge.  I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.”   The residents at this nursing home find a special refuge in the music of the Threshold Choir.  This all woman acapella group creates a sanctuary of soft notes for patients to rest in.
Janet has Alzheimer’s Disease. She stares blankly or wanders aimlessly through the facility. She doesn’t speak.  She still smiles sometimes and maneuvers her wheelchair using her feet. Her attention span is too short to allow focus eating a meal, looking through a magazine, or holding her great grandson, but she follows the Threshold Choir through the nursing home, stopping where they stop and moving on to the next room when they do.  It is the one activity that captures her attention and brings emotion to her face.  Sometimes a smile touches her lips and sometimes tears come.   Whomever said, “Music is what feelings sound like,” was right.  We see Janet’s feelings  as she is touched by and listens to the Threshold Choir.
The Choir formed four years ago and honors the ancient tradition of singing at the bedsides of those who are ill or dying, grieving or in need of musical healing. Their repertoire, which includes rounds, chants, lullabies and other music chosen to provide comfort, embraces the traditions of many religious faiths, love of others and life itself.
All choir members have taken hospice training.  Their clientele includes any person in need of comfort, healing or peace whether in hospice, hospital, nursing home or private residence.  The group often sings with very little notice and there is never a charge.
The group sings weekly for the residents at this facility after their rehearsals in the activity room. Sometimes, they give special concerts, but mostly  they go room to room, singing to those who need and appreciate the soothing music of these women’s voices.  The choir  makes it a point to visit and sing for those residents who are gravely ill or dying.  They occasionally  sing at funerals, memorial or graveside services.  The Threshold Choir has grown from six members in 2006 to sixteen members at present.
Nancy, another resident at this nursing home says, “I was feeling especially blue one day.  The Threshold Choir taught me the song,  Never Let Anyone Tell You You’re Anything Less Than Beautiful.  They asked me to sing along with them and complimented me on my soprano voice.  They bring a sense of peace when they come through the halls.  They have a following, including me.”
Residents here, community members, Hospice employees and the choir members themselves have expressed how the experience of the Threshold Choir has affected them:

Marion, widow of Tom  (The Choir sang to Tom in their home the day before he died.)  “I thought it was a very wonderful thing – a very comforting thing. The Threshold Choir is like hospice. The more we advertise how good it is, the more people should try it.”

Nancy,  Community Liason, Hospice: “As their lovely voices have blessed and soothed so many throughout all seasons of the year, the Threshold Choir should be commended for gathering, sometimes at a moment’s notice, to bring peace to the patients and families of  Hospice. Most of these ladies have full time jobs, yet they share their voices so sincerely and selflessly!”

 Joan, Choir member:   I joined the Choir after being invited to sing with three Choir members who were called on very short notice to sing for my neighbor who was very close to death. In fact, she had not spoken the whole day; she had rested, eyes closed, seemingly already in a different world.  The Choir members arrived and started to sing:  it was magical!  My neighbor not only opened her eyes, she also broke out in the widest, most angelic smile and exclaimed, “May I sing with you?”  Of course, she did not have the breath to sing, but as we finished each piece, she found the strength to clap and verbally thank us.  She died twenty-one hours later.

 Kathy, Choir member: “People can be trapped in a body a short or long time and the music is a beautiful gift, as much for the family as for the dying person.”

Deb, Choir Member: “I’m very moved by the effect our singing has on people. They get teary or clasp their hands over their heart.”

Elizabeth, Threshold Choir director: “Something happens with the music when we are singing for people who are dying. There is a different quality of sweetness and softness. Something in that place where the veils are thinning affects the whole energy of the room and we are all in that shared space. There’s a tenderness.”

 Deborah, Choir Member: “When I heard of the group forming I had just lost my partner of 4 years.  I instantly knew that I had to sing for my own healing.  Now, several years later, it is the heart-opening exchange between all who are present that keeps me coming back.  It is more than song that fills the room… is love…. and there is no greater healer than that.”

Terry, Choir Member: “I have always had an affinity for newborns and the dying – there is something so sacred about that time of coming and going. I can sense the connectedness to God or that Infinite Power that connects us all.”

Hildy, Choir member: “I cherish the heart-to-heart connection that the women in the choir share with each other, and which they extend to patients and their families through their music. People seem to be deeply touched by the love and tenderness that
we convey with our singing.”

All quotes here are in words from people who have been moved by experiences with the Threshold Choir.  Janet is not able to use words, but as we watch the way the music pulls her along with the choir as they visit and sing room to room in the hallways  at this facility, and we see the way her emotions are expressed in her smile or tears, we know just how this group of selfless, caring, talented  women affect.  No words are needed, only the music.

*There are over a hundred Threshold Choirs in existence.
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