The Art of Threshold Singing

Jan 10, 2011

Around the country there are groups of women who sing at the bedsides of people who are sick or dying. It's called Threshold singing and there are choirs all over the United States, including one in Yellow Springs.

The idea was born in 1990 when Kate Munger was caring for a friend who was dying of AIDS in California. After spending the morning doing practical things doing the dishes and cleaning house, Munger sat down at her friend's bedside unsure of what to do next. So she began to sing.

"I sang to myself to combat my nervousness, and I watched as I was singing, I calmed down. He calmed down. At the end of the afternoon, we were both completely serene, and I felt like I had given him something that was deeply important from me. It was a gift of my essence. A gift from my soul to his soul," says Munger.

A few years later, Munger invited a group of women to become the first Threshold Choir. A Threshold Choir can be any size, usually only 2 or 3 women sing at a bedside. They huddle close to each other and the patient. The goal is for the women to blend their voices even in larger rehearsals.

"We like to recreate the sound of a lullaby sung to a baby. So we're singing quite softly; we're snuggled up very close," says Munger.

"A small interwoven community"

"To sing together with your friends, whether in circle at rehearsal or in twos or threes at the bedside, to blend our voices in this service is so bonding. It's a fantastic addition to my life," says Theresa Horan-Sapunar. She sang with a Threshold Choir in Northern California before coming to Yellow Springs. Now she's the director of the Yellow Spring choir and says it's a great community for a Threshold Choir.

"We're such a small interwoven community. We're involved in each other's lives in many ways. So to come together and sing in this really sacred service that we all want to give to the community and to each other - I mean we sing for each other; we sing for our relatives and our friends, fathers and nieces. So there's a very special quality to it. We also sing to people that we've never met. That's true too. But it often happens that we have some connection to the people we sing for," says Horan-Sapunar.

In addition to singing with her choir, she also looks forward to helping develop new songs as a group.

"The women in this choir have so much depth and empowerment and musical love for what we're doing that I'm sure we're going to have some wonderful songs come out of us," says Horan-Sapunar.

The Yellow Springs Choir has grown to 35 members. This fall it hosted a regional gathering of Threshold Choir members and directors. Since then, several new choirs have formed in Ohio and the surrounding states. Kate Munger predicts an increase in the need for Threshold Choirs and similar groups as baby boomers age.

"We've changed everything we've encountered. You know we've changed the way babies are born; we brought back home deliveries. We've changed the way our culture is eating. And here we are looking at our own death and imagining it very different than its been for the last 100 years," says Munger.

For more information on Threshold singing around the country, including the Yellow Springs choir, visit www.thresholdchoir.org/.