Threshold Choir of New York City- Singing for Comfort

I have been working on a project that is dear to my heart. In order to describe it, I need to give you a bit of history.

In 2001, a friend, Kate Munger had been artfully leading some groups of women in the San Francisco Bay area in community singing of rounds. After having a profound experience of singing at the bedside of a dying friend, she had an epiphany and was struck with an inspiration that she needed to focus on this much-needed kind of service. She wondered what would happen if hundreds of women in the area were trained to do this kind of work. What if dying people were comforted with song by people who respected death as a natural part of the cycle of life? She started a choir called the Threshold Choir, to sing softly for people who were on the thresholds of life. Within a few years, Kate started one choir after another and nurtured dozens in California and the West Coast. Here is Kate’s description:

“The all-women Threshold Choirs honor the ancient tradition of singing at the bedsides of people who are struggling: some with living, some with dying. The voice, as the original human instrument, is a true and gracious vehicle for compassion and comfort. The choirs provide opportunities for women to share the sacred gifts of their voices at life’s thresholds.
When we are invited to a bedside, we visit in small groups. We invite families and caregivers to join us in song or to participate by listening. We choose songs to respond to musical taste, spiritual direction, and physical capacity. The songs may include rounds, chants, lullabies, hymns, spirituals, and choral music.”

Kate asked me if I would be interested in starting a choir in New York City. We had been friends for years, and I had visited her San Francisco choir and admired their work. I hesitated since I wasn’t sure I had the right skills. I had directed a community choir, and I had volunteered at a children’s hospital, but hospice was a new concept to me. With a plan to take some hospice training, I decided to take her up on the idea in 2007. Kate introduced me to Susan Graves, now a New Yorker who was a member of the original Threshold Choir in California. Susan was able to convey the history of the group as well as her own valuable experience. Slowly, one voice at a time, we began to grow into a wonderful group of women who enjoy singing, community and service.

We now have twenty-five women who volunteer their voices at three hospitals in Manhattan. In addition to rehearsing twice a month, our singers are led by trained song leaders who schedule visits to the various hospitals. Kate visits with our choir once a year for a workshop and I attend the annual national gathering in California to keep connected with with our sister choirs. I enjoy conducting workshops there as well.

Kate has started over one hundred choirs across the country and several in other countries. To see the list of cities who have a choir, and to learn more about what we do, go to www.thresholdchoir.org, the national website.  For information about the New York City choir based in Manhattan, see www.thresholdchoir.org/nyc.

Sue Ribaudo
Music Director, Threshold Choir of New York City