What is Threshold Choir?
One Choir, Many Voices
Singing for those at the thresholds of life in over 200 communities around the world.
A world where all at life’s thresholds may be honored with compassion shared through song.
Singing for those at the thresholds of life.
History of Threshold Choir:
The inspiration and seed for the Threshold Choir was planted in June of 1990 in California by Kate Munger. She combined some profound personal experiences with death, with her love of singing, and being of service to others. She formed a group and then other groups began forming and spread throughout California. Chapters are now currently in many states in the U.S., as well as in Canada, and in other countries around the world. As of 2018, there were over 200 chapters worldwide, and that number is continually growing. Threshold Choir members are volunteers, who sing with and for all people who are facing death, grief or suffering.
What exactly is Threshold Singing?
The goal of Threshold Singing is to bring ease and comfort to those at the thresholds of living and dying. A calm and focused presence at the bedside, with gentle voices, calming, simple and often lullaby type songs, and sincere kindness, can be soothing and reassuring to clients, family, and caregivers alike. Most importantly, of course, the goal is always to convey compassion and respect for individuals at the threshold.
When invited to a bedside, there are small groups of two to four singers. Some songs are planned ahead while others are chosen to respond to the client’s musical taste, spiritual direction, and current receptivity. Many of the songs are composed by Threshold Choir members specifically to communicate ease, comfort, and presence. The songs are appropriate for all – those who are deeply religious or spiritual, or not at all. A session typically lasts about 20 minutes, sometimes a little longer depending on the individual situation. Using soft, lullaby voices, the voices blend in unison or in harmonies, singing as gentle blessings, not as entertainment. It is absolutely fine when a client falls asleep while listening to the singing. Most of the songs are very short, so their repetition is conducive to rest and comfort. Families have said that Threshold singing helps them to “be more present” with their loved ones.
Music has the potential to be a healing power and can be an instrument for peace and justice. Threshold Choir is committed to creating a harmonious culture of inclusivity, respect, and love, represents and welcomes all backgrounds, is non faith based, and does not tolerate discrimination in any form. Threshold Choir is a 501(c)3 organization, funded and supported by donations. There is great interest and support for Threshold singing from the public, the hospice community, and the choral community. Professional and academic recognition of the significance of this work continues to expand locally, as well as internationally. There are approximately 400 songs in the current Threshold Choir library and that number is growing – the songs are typically lullaby like, calming, short, soothing songs, having melody and 3 part harmonies. Of the many Threshold songs, there are a number of core Threshold songs, ones that tend to be sung more often than others. Each Threshold Choir chapter is firmly rooted in its local community while also being an important part of our shared community as an international organization, singing from the same repertoire and shared experiences at regional and international gatherings. Choir members are always welcome at rehearsals in any location and at Threshold gatherings outside their own home area.
Who are those that become Threshold Choir members?
Many kinds of people are drawn to becoming bedside singers, and for many reasons. Some join after hearing about Threshold Choir or hearing the unique music, while some come after caring for a family member, or are hospice workers or volunteers. Some are part of traditional religions, some are not religious at all, and some have a personal form of spirituality that has no label. A few are professional musicians; most are not. All members learn to carry their parts and blend their voices, some by reading music and others learning solely by ear. Some have (or have had) careers in all types of fields, and some have focused on home-based work and volunteering.
Rehearsals, in addition to practicing and learning the music, are also a time to enjoy each other’s company, and an opportunity to have fun and share concerns. Often times, meaningful friendships form within a Threshold group, and those relationships are deepened by the important work that is done together. As Threshold Choir singers, most importantly shared is a repertoire of beautiful, meaningful, and soothing songs and a desire to provide comfort and peace at significant and challenging stages in life. The opportunity to provide comfort and peace is a great motivation for Threshold Choir singers. But as singers we also benefit and are blessed by Threshold singing both in unison and in harmonies.
Auditions are not required of new singers, and yet there is required a certain level and style of vocal skill. Skills required for joining may vary from chapter to chapter, but these are the general guidelines for someone who wants to join with the intent of singing at bedsides:
1) be able to carry a tune,
2) be able to hold your own part (or sincerely want to learn to) while others sing harmony,
3) be able to sing softly and blend your voice with others (or sincerely want to learn),
4) be able to communicate kindness with your voice, and
5) be willing to use self-monitoring and accept peer feedback as we work together to bring the most blended and graceful sound to our clients.
Threshold Choir Values:
We are committed to these values when we serve our clients. We recognize the privilege of being invited into our clients’ lives at a significant threshold and honor that privilege by maintaining these values at every level of the Threshold Choir organization:
We value honesty, sincerity, care, and respect in all our interactions.
We value each person’s own life path, choices, and experiences.
We value transformative power of love and the healing power of presence.
We value the importance of compassion and kindness.
We value the benefit of listening with more than just our ears.
We value caring for ourselves while being of service to others.
We value diversity with respect to spiritual paths, cultures, and abilities without respect to age, race, color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or physical ability.
We value dignity, worth, and uniqueness of all people.
We value the sanctity of all life.
We value the rights of individuals to privacy, confidentiality, and self-determination.
We know that we are giving something extremely precious when we sing at the bedside of someone on the threshold. We are aligning our integrity, our gratitude, and our deep generosity with our voices and dancing in the balance
of humility and confidence,
of service and self-healing,
of one singer’s voice blended with others,
of following the breath of our “traveler” with the blessing of our own breath,
of the stranger bringing grace to an intimate moment.
We are making kindness audible.
Of the many occasions when the Threshold Choir has been featured in the media, the following selections have especially captured the essence of what Threshold Choir is all about and does in many communities:
Video and Audio Interviews:
The Washington Post Video
“Dying is a part of living: Threshold choir visits hospice patients” (2:54 minutes)
“The Threshold Choir” (6:33 minutes)
Great Big Story (CNN) Video
“Songs of Comfort at the End of Life” (3 minutes)
“Threshold Choir Brings Songs of Comfort to the Dying” by Rachel Berger (6 minutes)
NPR Weekend Edition
“At Life’s Last Threshold, Choir Brings Comfort” by Emily Siner (5 minutes)
NPR All Things Considered
“Threshold Choir Sings to Comfort the Terminally Ill”, an interview with Kate Munger, founder of the Threshold Choir, by Arun Rath (4 minutes)
Death: the podcast
“The Gift of Song”, an interview with Annie Garretson and Sally Rothstein of the Pikes Peak Threshold Singers (34 minutes)
Well Talk Radio Interview
Interview with Susan Randazzo, Charlotte Russell, and Suzanne Buell of the Threshold Singers of Indian Hill Music (30 minutes)
The practice began in California and spread to 130 communities around the world. The mission of the Threshold Choir is to bring gentle acapella singing to people who are dying in hospitals and hospices, usually with three or four voices at a time. We accompanied the Washington, DC Threshold group as it comforted a patient during the last stages of his life.
“6 Stories That Will Inspire You to Give Back This Holiday Season: A Final Note” by Julia Scheeres, The Oprah Magazine, November 2018
“When someone hovers at the edge of death, these singers step in to ease the passage” by Debra Bruno. The Washington Post. May 2018
“This Choir Sings to People On the Verge of Dying, and It’s Just Beautiful” by Amy Paturel in Reader’s Digest, March 2016
“Threshold Choir: A Legacy of Healing and Peace” by Lynn Pribus in go60.us, June 2014
“Choirs support and comfort those at life’s threshold” by Sharon Sheridan in Episcopal News Service, December 2013
“Singing at the Threshold”
by Kelsey Menehan in The Voice, Spring 2013
“A Choir Rehearsal That Grew into Two” by Karen B. Kaplan in Offbeatcompassion (blog), July 2013