‘Kindness’ Choirs: Provide Comfort for the Dying
Feb 04, 2015 06:00AM
A bedside group of the Threshold Singers of Indianapolis work on mastering a new song.
The Threshold Singers of Indianapolis (TSI) first introduced themselves to a local hospice facility by singing softly for a woman and her two daughters. As hospice staff clustered around an open door to the hallway, the facility director was visibly moved and requested they sing for another patient that wasn’t expected to live through the night.
"We like to believe our songs create a sacred circle within which grief is released, and love and loss are profoundly felt,” says TSI Director Deborah Carrithers. “Threshold music is spiritual, but not religious. Our music addresses spiritual and emotional longings within a nondenominational framework. These songs are like mantras, transporting listeners to a place of profound peace.”
Bedside singing has been practiced in other cultures and throughout history. In some Hindu and Buddhist ceremonies, hymns are sung near those who are dying, while mantras are chanted into the ear at the moment of death. In the Middle Ages, French Benedictine monks became famous for establishing infirmaries across Europe for the terminally ill and using Gregorian chants to soothe the dying.
Music Thanatology is an emerging academic and medical field studying the effects frequency and tone have on a dying person. As more research supports the benefits music has on heart rate, temperature, respiration, sleep and anxiety, hospitals and hospices around the country are employing more of these techniques.
Threshold Singers is a nonprofit organization founded in 2001 in the San Francisco Bay Area by Kate Munger, who became intensely aware of her personal discomfort with the dying process as she sat bedside with a friend in the final stages of the AIDS virus. As her friend was comatose but agitated, Munger did what she often did to soothe herself in times of stress: She sang. Soft, lullaby-style music not only comforted her, but her friend’s agitation seemed to also subside.
“As with mantras, singers themselves are transported to a peaceful, but energized state,” says Carrithers. “This service, this gift is the most rewarding activity I’ve ever done. To be allowed to share and honor these private moments in the lives of these patients and their families is a privilege and a source of profound alive-ness.”
Perhaps this additional benefit to the performers is why the Threshold Singers now boast more than 100 choirs around the world, including in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom. The requirements to become a Threshold Singer include being able to carry a tune, hold a harmony part of a song and communicate kindness with voice. If a singer projects kindness vocally, the very presence of that singer helps relax everyone in the room.