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  • Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine


Calling all angelic women singers! Do you enjoy singing, have a sweet voice and feel drawn to help people? What is it that would make a person want to sing at the bedside of someone who is very ill or dying? What would that singer need to know? What songs would be best? Is it depressing? Why do singers do this year after year?

Those questions, and many others, have been asked and answered by the women who make up the Napa Valley Threshold Choir, one of over a hundred choirs throughout the world that specialize in providing small groups of a cappella singers to people who are very ill or dying. The service is free of charge and donations are welcomed.

Kate Munger, of Inverness, California, introduced the concept in 2000 and started eight Threshold Choirs in the Bay Area. Several local women had been singing with Kate since the mid-1990s. So when she came up with the idea of Threshold Choir, some women from that original group were ready to learn new songs and train to be bedside singers. The Napa choir began in 2007 and in ten years more than forty women have trained to become singers, memorizing 150 short songs and that have been sung at over 1,000 bedsides!

As singers, we learn to modulate our voices, listen closely to each other to create the sound of one voice, sing three part harmony in a group of only three women, and focus so that we send angelic voices to our client. Our pledge is “Kindness Made Audible.” We also learn to be quiet, to slow down, to recognize and respond to cues from our client, to value the space between songs, and to let the songs touch the listener’s heart.

The best descriptions of the impact and experience of these singers, come from the singers themselves. One of the Threshold Choir members Sue recalls, “As we sang ‘Dear One Thank You For Your Love’ to my friend in her last days, she gasped and gave me a loving look that I will never forget. At another time, we sang for a gregarious military veteran for several months, and on his very last day we sang to him as he was unresponsive in his bed. As we finished our songs he waved his foot at us which I believe was to thank us.”

“In this broken world, we need healing & hope. As our circle gathers to rehearse together, the words reassure, the melodies and harmonies provide soothing balm. In turn, this is our offering for those we sing to,” said Marilyn, another singer, “When I closed an early email to our Director, Sudie, with ‘May your dreams gently hold you as you welcome the dawn,’ she heard a song. Moments of inspiration. Hope rises.”

“I’ve never been very confident of my singing voice. I can sing on key and harmonize, with lots of practice! But not with a whole lot of power. The beauty of the Threshold Choir is that the songs are not only sweet lullaby-type songs written by our members but they’re meant to be sung softly and most importantly blend to sound as one voice. To receive goose bumps while I sing with my sisters is an incredible feeling! And to see the reactions from our travelers makes it uniquely rewarding,” added Tracy.

Director Sudie said, “Even after ten years, I still get chills singing with a small group of women at a bedside. Our harmonies are always good, but sometimes they are exquisite, and I feel a vibration within me. Bringing that to a bedside is a great joy.”

“I have been singing with NVTC since its early days and I still am in awe of how much I receive as a result of our singing to others. Our gentle presence for those who are dying or simply in need of a quiet peaceful ‘song bath’ to relax and let go also nourishes me and my singing sisters,” explains Phyllis, “Singing our short, poignant and beautiful songs together, experiencing our travelers and/or their family and loved ones calming down and becoming present, is a rich gift for us all. It is hard to call it our ‘work’ when it touches our hearts and souls so deeply.”

“Singing with these amazing women gives me a sense of purpose as we bring comfort to those who are sick, dying, and/or in pain. I find my life’s experiences, both good and bad, provide me with insights and empathy that develop into songs of comfort,” said Echo, “Singing lovely harmonies with my song sisters as we send loving energy to each traveler is a blessing and an honor and is so very fulfilling.”

Anne remembers, “I had the great fortune of discovering the power and beauty of the Threshold Choir by accident when a few NVTC members came to sing at the bedside of a friend I happened to be visiting at a local nursing facility. As they sang, the exquisite peace, comfort and even joy of the harmonies and song that filled the room was palpable. The choir’s unique music not only enveloped my friend with loving kindness, but all of us in that sacred space, including the angelic voiced singers, shared in the beautiful ease of the moment.”

“To the surprise of many of my friends and family who thought singing for the dying or those in chronic pain would be depressing or inflame my grief after the sudden death of my husband a year earlier, quite to the contrary, since joining the choir nearly nine years ago, I not only feel profoundly honored and gratified over and over again, by helping to provide ‘audible kindness’ and ease to others in times of need or life transitions, but I absolutely cherish the healing connection, friendships and loving purpose that I share with my singing sisters!” Anne added.

Most of our repertoire of 400 songs was written by Threshold Choir members. Napa Valley Threshold Choir has produced twenty eight original songs written by Echo Evensen, Katharine Mawer, Marilyn Asmuth, Rende Lazure, Sudie Pollock and Yvonne Chester. Those songs are on a new CD, We Offer Our Songs, which is now available. Join the Threshold Choir on Thursday, October 19 from 7 - 9 pm for a Ten Year Celebration at Covenant Presbyterian Church, 1226 Salvador Avenue in Napa, where they will share songs from the new CD with composers providing information about how the song came to be. The choir is grateful to Pastor Lynda Hyland Burris and her congregation for opening their sanctuary. Come listen and experience angelic voices!

To request singers at a bedside, a CD (think gifts for the holidays) or for information about joining the Napa Valley Threshold Choir, please contact Director, Sudie Pollock at (707) 326-6436. Training for new singers begins in January 2018.


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