Born to Age • March 8, 2016
Before she joined the Diablo Valley Threshold Choir, Shirley McElhattan’s voice had only graced the inside of the car, or the shower. She admits she was always a “wannabe” singer, with no training or expectations that she’d ever be a part of a choir. But one day, while listening to the Threshold Choir give a presentation at a senior living facility, something changed.
“I heard them sing, and the hair on my arms stood up. I knew this was something I wanted to do,” she explains. “It changed my life.”
In 16 years, Threshold Choirs have sprung up in 150 locations throughout the United State, changing the lives of thousands of women, mostly, who sing melodic harmonies of original songs over the bedside of people who are ill or dying. Founder, Kate Munger, who lives in Inverness, CA , admits that the movement has far exceeded her expectations of growth and volunteer dedication.
Munger had a simple start. One day, back in 1990, she was asked to sit bedside for a dying man. He was comatose, and very agitated. “I was panicked, there alone,” Munger admits. “I started to sing… that’s what I do when I’m scared. I sang the same song, over and over again, for two and a half hours. I noticed that I calmed, and he calmed.”
Ten years later, she decided to move forward in forming her first choir. Word spread quickly. Hospices began to call and people came in wanting to help.
The choir trains weekly, and it takes a full year for a new member to be fully trained and ready to embark on their first effort.
McElhattan admits she went nervously to her first choir practice, and was placed in “melody.” She could sing along and harmonize. After her year, she graduated by singing a solo over a person in a lounge chair.
“When you sing over someone, they can feel a vibration up and down the body. It’s a beautiful thing,” she says, proud that already she’s participated in four memorials. “I give eye contact and love while I’m singing.”
About three women, a soprano, alto and melody, are dispatched for each event. Altogether, the Diablo Valley chapter has about thirty women, and they only go out to sing based on availability.
The songs are simple. All are written by Threshold Choir members, with short, repetitive lyrics. Some examples are, ‘ You are not alone,” or “I am here beside you,’ Over and over again.
Diablo Valley Threshold Choir “There’s a cumulative effect of profound comfort as the lyrics come at you mulitiple times,” points out Munger, “when you are being sung over, you are by attended to and witnessed by the kindest people on the planet.”
McElhattan admits that it’s changed her own life, as well. “If I feel sad or lonely, I sing for someone and all my needs are met.”
Diablo Chapter Valley leader, Leah Fisher, adds that a person doesn’t have to be dying in order for the choir to sing at bedside. Weekly singing can also be for people who are ill and need more support. Once someone has a terminal diagnosis, the singers try to be there often “through the journey,”
These are not professional singers, and they do not perform. They can be invited to participate in a memorial service, but mostly the singing is intended for bedside.
For more information on the Diablo Valley Threshold Choir, contact them at: firstname.lastname@example.org.