Sing for nearly two days, straight??? Oh, you bet! And dance some, and eat good food, and share the company of lively, bright, compassionate souls – yes we did! In late February, as many choir members from across the southwest as possible gathered in Glendale, AZ for our annual gathering. It was hosted by the Phoenix West Choir, who did an absolutely graceful and extraordinary job of welcoming us with their creative embrace.
We learned new songs. Each choir shared some of their own songs or much loved standard songs with the wider circle. We walked a candlelit labyrinth at dusk, we shared in a community sing. It was all WOW. And here is a pretty darn good selfie of those of us who were there, glowing with the joy that singing brings you.
One of the most joyful things about singing in this choir is the blending of voices that occurs, the oneness of the sound, when we sing one line of harmony in a circle of 60 people or when we split into three parts.
It is honestly like no other experience most of us have had in our lives. And that’s saying something, don’t you think?
Here are some more images from the gathering, to give you an idea. If you are drawn to this service, what we call ‘Kindness made Audible’ – let us know – we’d love for you to come join us and see what is happening in Tucson.
Tucson, Eastside, Threshold Choir member, Pam Ballingham, cordially invited, Joan Brundage, who took training classes with the Music for Healing and Transition Program.
Joan shares her training and experiences and her musical background as applies to ministering to those who are undergoing a transition such as the process of dying, illness or other debilitating trauma.
Two of the many examples Joan shared were the importance of having an awareness in selecting an appropriate song (tone, rhythm, variation etc.) for the one being sung to. And she stressed the importance for the singers to prepare themselves emotionally, physically and psychologically before they share in song.
We thank Pam for recognizing Joan’s knowledge and talent and arranging for her to share them with Tucson Threshold Choir in continued conscious giving in song from birthing, in between and to one moving through time.
In our process to re-learn a song we gathered together sharing our input, those of us with trained musical eyes and ears and those of us with an intuitive sense.
Both have passionate intention of fine tuning the song yet allowing the flow of the nature of the song to occur while giving to the person being sung to the sensitivity and soothing of soul as one moves through time.
Yesterday was a bright and sunny day in Tucson, balmy compared to much of the country who shivered with temps at or way below the zero degree mark. Six members of our choir gathered on the humble front steps of an adult care home to ‘warm up’ our voices for singing winter carols on what might have felt like a spring day to many folks. We went inside to find a semi-circle of elderly faces in the living room, some sleeping, some expectant, with a couple of caregivers present amongst them. Just what we hoped. We came to sing in honor of a woman who had recently transitioned in this home, to celebrate her life, and those who knew her and/or cared for her on her journey, all on behalf of her family.
We sang a few of our core Threshold Choir songs, yet realized quickly that on this ‘ninth day of Christmas’ the holiday spirit was still mighty present! We shifted into familiar tunes like Away in a Manger, Silent Night, Joy to the World . . . you know the stable of songs. Faces brightened, singing along opened up with cheer. Jingle Bells was likely the crowd favorite!
Then we went to the house next door and sang to a new group in the living room. One lady had a series of questions for us: “Where did you come from? What church do you go to? Do you know my minister?” I can see why she wondered from where on earth we appeared in her living room. Understandable! And as our ‘voice’ of the choir that day answered her questions with the response “we come from many faiths and our songs are written by members from various traditions or beliefs systems” – Baha’i to Jewish to Universalist to Baptist to well, you name it – I stood in quiet awe of what Threshold Choir does across this country.
We sing from a place without faith boundaries for people during fragile times. We sing openly from our hearts. We let ourselves be vulnerable. We sing into grace.
And hopefully, from there we issue peace.
(And yes, we learn something every single time.)
Then, this morning my meditation reading catalyzed this post. It relates so well to our experience yesterday and this sweet inquisitive lady’s questions. The author of my reading, Mark Nepo, writes:
“Each person is born with an unencumbered spot – free of expectation and regret, free of ambition and embarrassment, free of fear and worry – an umbilical spot of grace where we were each first touched by God. It is this spot of grace that issues peace. Psychologists call this spot the Psyche, theologians call it the Soul, Jung calls it the Seat of the unconscious, Hindu masters call it Atman, Buddhists call it Dharma, Rilke calls it Inwardness, Sufis call it Qalb, and Jesus calls it the Center of our Love.
To know this spot of inwardness is to know who we are, not by surface markers of identity, not by where we work or what we wear or how we like to be addressed, but by feeling our place in relation to the Infinite and inhabiting it.”
More and more through singing with Threshold Choir, it feels like we sense our place “in relation to the Infinite” because we honestly do stand at infinite thresholds. It matters little what faith we do or don’t bring into these spaces; what kind of clothes we wear or where we work. All that matters, really, is the grace we sing into along the way.
This is so exciting: you can listen to our founder, Kate Munger, being interviewed on an “All Things Considered” segment here. As I listened to the radio this afternoon in my kitchen, I felt my heart race when I heard Kate’s voice and happily began singing along with Threshold Choir sisters as the piece aired.
During this season of gratitude, a path in my life for which I am most grateful to walk is being a part of the Tucson Threshold Choir. (Based on recent emails to each other over the holiday, I think many in our choir would agree!) When Kate mentions in the story how singing bedside is more of a form of prayer than ‘performance’, in response to Arun’s question about it being kind of stressful, I felt tears well up in my being.
“Yes. Thank you, Kate!” I said aloud. And felt a huge swell of gratefulness to her: thank you for bringing the possibility of your songs to so many of us across this country.
Whether our choir rehearses together in the Little Chapel of All Nations or sings in an ICU hospital room, care facility dining room, inpatient hospice hallway or silent bedroom of a home . . . singing for the dying and their caregivers – or even sometimes for ourselves – is a tender experience. A delicate and sacred unspoken kind of prayer is woven throughout our songs.
Important to note not because I’m whining. Rather notable because, by the end of singing our last song in rehearsal tonight, I was covered in goosebumps.
Nah, you say. How is that possible?
Well, maybe it’s magic. I don’t know. I’m never sure how to explain it. It may be from the angel wings flapping around us! It is surely divine, however it happens. There is this unquantifiable and indescribable shimmer, a kind of vibrational healing that occurs when we sing from our hearts, with intentions of love and healing.
To begin the rehearsal, Melissa and I admitted we felt tired and had icky heat-related headaches. We let ourselves be on the floor horizontally, to rest a bit and have fun with stream of consciousness singing, for the cooling humor of it. Somehow, we stumbled into a pretty gnarly rendition of “King of the Road” when a stranger walked into the Chapel and could easily have thought we were nuts. She was looking for a hospice meeting, one that had occurred last week. So as fate would have it, she is a hospice volunteer who offers body work to patients in their homes. She had just come from working with a 27 year old woman dying from cancer.
This is not an everyday task, that just anybody does, you know?
Naturally, Melissa and I sat up and asked this kind stranger, who we later learned has the name Jane, if she would like to receive a song or two. We could see she might be willing. “Now?” she asked. “Yes, now,” we replied.
She paused for a split second and exclaimed, “I would absolutely love that!” And we quickly made her a place to become comfortably horizontal on the floor herself. She readily claimed it. We chatted for a few moments, she mentioned something about angels. We instantly knew the song to begin: So Many Angels. She softened into receiving. When we checked in with her a few songs later she was comfortable, kind of glowing in a giddiness about this shift in experience and ‘turning off her mind’ in order to only BE and receive. Something so simple! And yet, so rare. Such an unexpected gift. For all three of us.
Forty-five minutes later, with quite a few songs covered, we three were strangers no more. We felt connected and known in a peaceful way that makes words feel flimsy.
A huge gift for Melissa and I came in hearing Jane’s unabashed joy and account of how she felt: “like angels were all around her” and a palpable sense of vibrational healing. She noticed very early on how different it was to hear voices coming from human hearts so near her (we were sitting on the floor on either side of her), unlike hearing music from an electronic source. She told us how “intimate, earthy and feminine” the experience felt – all at once – likely because our voices are untrained and soft, coming from a place that is like a mother singing her child a soft lullaby.
I’m barely doing this exchange any justice, although I’m trying so readers can get a glimpse. Singing in Threshold Choir is a total joy unlike any other in my life. Pure and simple. When we have these encounters, these wordlessly intimate and graceful times with people living and dying, I feel like we all come to a deep and nourishing well. It has sparkling water and we don’t just stand there looking at it longingly. We take long, deliciously satisfying gulps of our sense of our humanity, of our connectedness and our innate loving natures.
Like Jane said when she slowly stood up after receiving our songs, “I feel REFRESHED! I feel renewed and full of love.”
Yep. Melissa and I did, too! Thank you, Jane, for missing your meeting last week and showing up this week instead. We couldn’t be happier you found us.
P.S. Here is a tack-on gift for our readers. Try letting yourself be soft and receive a threshold choir song in this video. (Go ahead, turn it up and lay yourself down on the floor, even!) Perhaps you’ll have a small taste of the feeling I try to convey in this post.
It’s wonderful to be back in the fold, never having left in spirit, and time creating a fortuitous connection with Stephanie during which the idea of an eastside branch of the choir was planted, germinated and bore fruit on April 10th. Erin and Stephanie joined my good friend and Threshold aspirant, Marci Fredericks at our home where Marci jumped in to song and harmony without hesitation and we sailed through an hour and a half of mostly our old favorites, invoking that familiar feeling of something greater than the sum of the parts.
Stephanie kindly hosted the second rehearsal as I was out of town and we just had our third gathering last Tuesday back here where Erin introduced two songs new to me, Calling all Angels and Kinder, which we sang together several times to get the feel for the rhythm, sound and sense of form and content. Marci was familiar with a slightly different version of Calling All Angels and the additional verses which she will bring to our next gathering. As well she offered to bring the version she knows of the Chant to Tara.
Stephanie sang one of the Threshold songs (about walking in Sunshine – I don’t have the title right now and she is off on a mountain birding trek) )at a recent ceremony where she sponataneously translated it into Spanish, and has offered to write up the translation for us.
We meet on second and fourth Tuesdays each month, at 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 (near Broadway and Camino Seco) and will love to see any of you whon live close and/or want some extra song time. Please contact us for the address.
Last night at rehearsal we shared an enlightening experience. We usually sing at the Little Chapel of All Nations on the U of A campus. We sing inside the sweetly intimate and quiet space – when we have a key. We quickly learned the universe had other plans for us, being that we arrived sans key.
So, we improvised. First we sat in a nearby courtyard. With temps still hovering near 100 degrees it was warm, yet the cool night sky helped us be outside with ease. Okay, we thought, this is nice. But then the thumping bass lines and party soundtracks from nearby sorority or fraternity parties made themselves known. (School just resumed = HIGH energy hum!) It was a little tough to concentrate. With her trademark patience and intuition, Erin suggested we move into another space, due to the ahem, ‘high ambient noise’ factor. (Love her so much.)
The four of us took two benches and moved ourselves with these into a dark, brick and relatively quiet passageway with a cool cross-breeze. Great acoustics to boot, we realized. We found another little world within a world! We sat back-to-back, sinking into our breath and our bones. We sang with delicious satisfaction.
As I reflect today, I am seeing the metaphors. I see how we were quietly guided by intuition and listened to it. We didn’t let the noise and commotion annoy or disrupt us. We found the quiet space. We claimed it. And the joy of singing together unfolded for us, externally and internally, all at once.
The staff at this inpatient hospice facility in Tucson welcome us twice a month, as we come with songs into the hallways and rooms. We sing to patients and their families. When staff say, “sure, we’d like a song or two” we sing to them, too!
The first time we visited, we offered songs with five voices. We sang to a small number of patients whose ages spanned from pre-teen to elders. Sometimes, like tonight, only two of us may make it to sing. It may be the perfect amount unbeknownst to any of us — only two voices. We were called to sing softly for one woman. The songs were “So Many Angels” and “You are Loved”. Her labored breathing appeared to soften as we tapered our sound into hums.
For anyone who faces loss right now, I feel moved to post this video of Threshold Sisters singing earlier this year at a National Gathering. The uplifting power of our songs need not only occur in the hallways at hospice. Hopefully this song reaches many hearts: