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A Threshold Choir in Santa Cruz?

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  • Kate Munger
    Dear Friends, In March 2000 I started the first two Threshold Choirs, for women who are called to sing at the bedsides of people who are dying, in coma and
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 6, 2003
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      Dear Friends,  In March 2000 I started the first two Threshold Choirs, for women who are called to sing at the bedsides of people who are dying, in coma and newborns...now there are 7 choirs in the Bay Area with over 230 singers.  And I feel guided to begin a Threshold Choir in Santa Cruz.  I invite you to come to a preliminary informational meeting on January 20 in the late afternoon at a location to be determined to meet me and others who are interested, to experience the kind of singing we do in the Threshold Choir and to envision together how a choir like this would work in the Santa Cruz Community.   I am including below an article that appeared in the SF Chronicle in August 2002 about our work and can send much more if you are interested and need more of an idea of what we do.  Please don't hesitate to pass this information along to any other women you think might be interested and please get in touch with me if you have questions. 
      Very Sincerely, Kate
       
       
         Charleen Earley, special to the Chronicle
       
      Ellen was their first client.  She was 52, a psychologist, a cellist, dying of lupus.  But in her passing, her spirit was comforted through the music of the Threshold Choir.  Conceived in the heart of Kate Munger of Inverness two years ago. the mostly all-female, nondenominational choir has grown into eight groups -- Marin, Berkeley/Oakland, Sonoma County, Bolinas, Danville (this choir is coed), San Francisco, Peninsula and Placerville (El Dorado County).  Their clients are newborns and the dying.
       
      "While the medical staff tried physical and medical interventions to keep Ellen's body alive, we were keeping peace with her spirit." said Munger, 52.  "We were comforting her soul."
       
      Munger teaches music at the Temba School in San Rafael one morning a week, but the Threshold Choir is her full-time work.  The choir idea was spawned as she was helping a friend.  "I sang to him for hours.  He was comatose," Munger said.  "I've been singing all my life and watching the ways the hymns were touching the elders in the community.  It was incredible."  Hearing is sometimes the sense last to go, says Munger, who noticed the tracings of a monitor at the bedside of her good friend Bettye, had started following the tempo of their song.
       
      Selections include works from Bach and Mozart, to a number of choir-written pieces from their book of 186 songs.  Genres include contemporary to ancient sacred rounds, chants, cowboy lullabies and songs from various cultures and traditions.
      "It's all right...You can go...Your memories are safe with us,"  Munger sings, demonstrating over the phone.
       
      Each choir meets twice a month for a 2 1/2-hour session of singing, silent meditation and witnessing to each other in preparation for, and recovery from, singing at bedsides.  Members of two or three sing acappella for one-half hour, solely at the request of the dying, noting musical preferences, physical and spiritual needs.  "Helping someone have a beautiful death is a simple act of charity," said Munger.  "It doesn't take millions of dollars." 
      It doesn't take a particular faith either since the choir does not promote any specific religion.  "We all have access to the sacred equally, no matter the background," said Munger.  "Singing is sacred."
       
      For Sherrin Loyd of Emeryville, singing is not about religion.  "It's about spirituality.  Being open-hearted, not being dogmatic.  If music speaks to someone, you don't have to talk about beliefs."  A professor of English phonetics at California State University at Hayward, Loyd cites the lyrics of one of their most often requested songs: "Guide me through the darkness, guide me through the light."  Loyd, 56, is Quaker, and her partner, Jill Lessing, also a choir member is Jewish.  She says they sing to people to whom music soothes.  She also considers singing for the dying an honor and a privilege.
       
      Involved in Threshold Choir since the beginning, Margy Henderson's specialty is singing to newborns at the UCSF's pediatric intensive care unit.  "I'm good with them.  I am unafraid of my own grief and tenderness toward babies, and because I dream of babies at night," said Henderson of San Francisco.  Henderson, 52, explains the difficulty others have in dying.   "It is so hard to die 'well.'  So hard to receive, especially from strangers," she said.  "Some people get it and are open and they just allow the sounds to wash over them till they trance.  This allows the singer to also trance, which makes the singing more vital and effective."
       
      A verbal, musical affirmation to "let go," is what Munger says some clients need.  I encourage them to sing with us," said Munger.  "The body has a strong physical drive to stay alive, the body doesn't let go."  She says it's an extreme compliment when a client falls into a restful slumber while they sing. 
      "If no other misses you, I will.  I will sense the emptiness where once you breathed..."  Munger sings again, words by playwright and poet Steven Wayne Anderson. 
       
      Along with a six-month commitment, a good singing voice is required.  Members enjoy a monthly gathering for a time of socializing, networking and an occasional mini-workshop with a local musician or spiritual leader.  Fees are $100 per quarter and the choir meets three quarters a year.  Munger says it takes an average of one year to learn the repertoire.  Time is also needed for some members to address and deal with their own issues surrounding death. 
       
      Munger hardly sees this ministry to those who have little time left as disheartening.  "(When) the dying are at the end of a long, productive, happy life, there's something profoundly not sad in this," she said.  "The choir's singing sets a more restful, meditative mood, not a gut-wrenching one," says Loyd, who wishes to be sung at her deathbed.
       
      Ellen (the woman with lupus) was so funny," Loyd said.  "There were times when we'd laugh and laugh."  The choir believes its music extended Ellen's life for nine months; she passed away on October 31, 2000.
       
      Without needing validation, conversation or explanation, Henderson says the choir's presence provides a safe place to fill the room with loving vibrations to those who are (being) asked to release all that is precious to them.  She says people deserve some help from those who are not afraid of death.  And death, she addis, is just another "between" state of consciousness.  "Death is really not such a foreign land.  We have dreams, some people astral travel (out-of-body experience), we 'space out,' we sleep, we laugh ourselves silly, we orgasm, we were somewhere before we were born, and we trance in meditation," said Henderson.  "Between is dying.  It is right next to being something else."  Henderson is humbled by the risk of giving.  "Not just the unknown of death's result, but the unknown about how our intention to love in this manner will be received.  How to pick songs that are helpful, who else will be in the room, whether we are imposing.  Where would you find this many women who are open to extending themselves in this manner?"
       
      Kate Munger is available to consult with community groups, corporations, churches, faith groups and service organizations in and outside the Bay Area who want to set up Threshold Choirs in their areas.  (415) 669-1413 or email kmunger@....
       
       


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