Sing me home: A new choir sings at the bedsides of those who are at the thresholds of life
The Gold Country Threshold Choir meets from 6 to 7:30 p.m. the first and third Wednesdays of the month at a member’s house in Grass Valley. For more information, contact Donna Raibley firstname.lastname@example.org, 530-477-6389; or Helen Breault email@example.com, 530-446-5068. For more information on the international organization, visit http://www.thresholdchoir.org.
On Wednesday, a small group of people pulled chairs into a circle in the middle of a Grass Valley living room and began to sing.
“I am sending you light to heal you, to hold you,” they sang.
“I am sending you light to hold you in love.”
Despite the varying vocal tones, every note was sung with the intent of singing, ever so softly, as one.
“Traditional choirs are more about projecting and performing,” said Helen Breault. “What we’re doing is different. This is solely about service — it shifts the energy.”
Breault is co-director of the new and emerging Gold Country Threshold Choir, which honors the ancient tradition of singing at the bedside of people who are at a “threshold,” many of whom are dying.
The newly formed a cappella group, which is currently welcoming new members, is a chapter of Threshold Choir International, which was founded by Bay Area resident Kate Munger in 2000. The idea for the choir initially came to Munger in the 1990s while singing to a dear friend who was in a coma, dying of HIV/AIDS.
“I felt as if I had given generously of my essence to my dear friend while I sang to him,” she explained. “I also found that I felt deeply comforted myself, which in turn was comforting to him.”
The Threshold Choir has no religious affiliation. The goal is solely to provide a comforting, calm presence at a person’s bedside, bringing simple songs sung with soft, gentle voices. Singers usually visit in small groups — three to four maximum — so as not to overwhelm those who may be in a fragile state. When first walking into a room, the group remains silent with the exception of singing and typically stays a maximum of 20 minutes unless asked to stay longer.
“Using soft, lullaby voices, we blend in harmony or sometimes in unison, if that provides the most comfort,” writes Munger on the Threshold Choir website. “We offer our singing as gentle blessings, not as entertainment, and we are honored when a client falls asleep as we are singing. Most of our songs are very short, so their repetition is conducive to rest and comfort.”
Breault says the new Nevada County choir, which meets twice monthly for rehearsals, doesn’t expect to be at bedsides for another three to four months.
“Our goal is to learn a core number of songs that we can sing by heart without sheet music,” she said. “We can grow from there. But even as we learn, new members are always welcome.”
The criteria for joining the Gold Country Threshold Choir is mainly having the capacity to communicate kindness with your voice, said co-director Donna Raibley. But it certainly helps if members can carry a tune, hold their own part when harmonizing (or sincerely want to learn) and blend one’s voice with others.
“You don’t have to have a quality voice or read music — it’s mostly the intent of one’s heart and soul,” said Raibley. “We are a secular, all-volunteer group, primarily of women, but we certainly welcome men. We encourage prospective new singers to attend at least three to four rehearsals before deciding whether or not they would like to become members. There is a requested donation of $25 a year to join.”
There are currently more than 125 Threshold Choir chapters throughout the U.S. and Canada. According to Munger, professional and academic recognition of the significance of the nonprofit organization’s work continues to expand. While each choir is rooted in its community, each is also a member of the international organization. Members share the same repertoire and often gather at regional and international gatherings, added Breault.
During Grass Valley rehearsals, Raibley said members are encouraged to think of loved ones. Occasionally a choir member will sit or recline inside the circle of singers and simply listen to the surrounding voices.
“We’ve gotten so far away from ritual in our society and we need it,” Raibley added. “There are so few rituals today. My mantle is service — serving my fellow man and the community. What we’re doing becomes a gift, a compassionate act. Our voices create a sacred space of trust and love.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.
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