Singing for someone headed toward a forever-long sleep takes heart.
That’s just where the members of the Long Bay Threshold Singers find the sentiment and soul to share their voices a cappella, while visiting someone nearing the end of life, or recovering from illness, shut in, or simply in need of having his or spirits lifted. At the invitation of a person’s caregiver, or personnel from their family or residence, the vocalists, in groups of three or four across the Grand Strand, volunteer their lullabies for about 20 minutes.
The local choir, begun in spring 2014, is among about 130 chapters across the United States, Canada, England, Scotland and Australia. The whole chorale of about 20 women also will give a first-ever concert at 3 p.m. Sunday at Trinity Presbyterian Church, 2061 Glenns Bay Road, west of Surfside Beach, for free as part of the host’s “Arts at the Church” series.
Cynthia Dyer, director of the Long Bay Threshold Singers, found another voice to carry in explaining their mission.
Question | With each performance you make, what basic details or background are you given about the single-person audience from the host who brings you in for the visit?
Answer | Threshold vocabulary: We don't use the words performance and audience. We’re giving a quiet, gentle gift of song, like singing a lullaby. We use the terms “song visit” and “song recipient.”
When we receive a call from an individual requesting a song visit, we ask for the song recipient's first name only (because confidentiality is very important), his or her address, her or his basic situation (in bed or chair, awake or asleep, at ease, in pain, shut-in and downhearted, in ongoing illness, failing, actively dying), who will be there to help him or her to while we sing (because we are not caregivers and come only to sing – and to listen and talk a bit, if that’s what the recipient needs, and the best day(s)/time(s) to come.
We also ask callers to tell us a little bit about their relative or friend. We come in part to honor this loved one at this sacred moment (or threshold) in their lives. So, this is an opportunity for the caller to speak of his or her loved one – and be heard, and then we’ll also feel more personally aware of whom we’re singing for.
Q. | Does knowing a little more about each honoree – maybe he or she was a combat veteran, a dog lover, or a former musician or artist – help in the melody choices the singers make for that 20-minute period when everything else in the world stops for your group and the listener?
A. | We sing from a limited, if extensive, repertoire written especially for the not-for-profit Threshold Choir International. Of the several hundred songs available, we now know about 40, which we sing from memory. (We’re always learning more as we go along.) So, our song choices are more about the recipient’s mental or emotional need than his or her history or personality. We can sing to calm and comfort, to encourage and uplift, to inspire, to invite someone to forgive (oneself and others) and let go, or to bless and ease them and their family in this sacred, but stressful time. For these limited choices, we don’t need much information, really.
Q. | Sharing your art of song at head and body level in your gift for each person, how does that help you connect heart to heart with the man or woman in the center of attention in that room?
A. | You can imagine that if three or four singers stood close to a bed, looking down on a recipient, that might be uncomfortable for the person in the bed. Our sitting on our own short, portable stools, toward the foot of the bed, means first of all that no one already in the room needs to rise and give us a seat. Once we’re settled in an arc around the lower part of the bed – because we don’t want to sit too close and crowd the recipient in any way – we can maintain eye contact without causing her or him to strain to see us, and we’re literally at her or his level, heart to heart.
This is a very personal gift we’re giving. Our soft, blending harmonies are carried on sound vibrations that are felt deeply by our recipients and by us singers, too. We hope our posture and our faces communicate respect and compassion for our recipients and their family and friends, whatever their situation might be.
Q. | When you perform as a whole assemblage, with the event on Sunday, Oct. 16, in the “Arts at the Church”" series, does such a gathering come with less pressure or less sadness, and a chance to remind everyone of the need to celebrate the best things in life, all those blessings to count, especially with Thanksgiving on the way, to close another harvest season?
A. | Although we hold occasional Big Circle gatherings among ourselves, we’ve never sung in public with the whole choir before. We sing in small groups at bedside, and in somewhat larger groups (6-8 singers) for presentations, to introduce ourselves to organizations and facilities in the community. This whole-choir thing is new.
But yes, at this first public concert, we’ll include many uplifting, life-affirming – even fun – songs. I actually don’t think of any of our songs as sad songs. We certainly acknowledge the presence of loss and grief in some songs, but most of our songs are full of blessing, peace, gratitude and love. Some of our songs are moving, but the effect is usually nourishment of spirit, rather than sadness.
By acknowledging and honoring in song people’s experiences of change and loss, whatever they might be, we hope they might come to feel more acceptance and gratitude – for what was and what is, and let go of some sadness or regret – little by little.
The Threshold Choir is not religion-based, but our music and our singing is certainly spiritual. Among our members are people of several faith communities as well as some who aren’t involved in any religious group.
Q. | The people who volunteer their voices: Is this their only outlet to sing, or an additional outing for some?
Both. We have the full spectrum. Our senior member, Diane Kane, sings in three other groups, including her church choir and two Sweet Adelines groups. We have other members who sing with other ensembles. On the other hand, we have singers who are just rediscovering they can sing after not singing since childhood.
By the way, we welcome new singers. The more singers we have, the better we can serve the Grand Strand. Our regular rehearsals are open to interested singers. We have a good, solid training program for new singers, once they visit for awhile and decide they want to join us. There’s no audition. Anyone who can carry a tune, match pitch, and blend her or his voice with others, and communicate compassion with voice and presence, will fit right in. Just call me before visiting, so we can chat: 843-254-7407.
Q. | In my partings of ways from this world with family members, hospital nurses have given assurances that words we spoke in those moments were audible, never mind the conditions of loss and inability of our kin to react, let alone communicate, at all. Through this lifting of your collective voices in such settings, how has your own view of making the transition from life on Earth changed, and how has this experience comforted you in helping bring comfort – a key word in the growing, more-valuable-than-ever service of hospice – to anyone about to “Fly” (away), as Celine Dion recorded back in the 1990s?
A. | I haven’t noticed a radical change in my understanding of death and dying and letting go, but rather a profound deepening of my sense of respect and gratitude and compassion, for my own life story and my own loved ones, here and gone on, and for the being, history and present circumstances of every person I meet: Sacred beings, sacred stories and sacred moments, each and every one.
Contact STEVE PALISIN at 843-444-1764.
If you go
WHO: Long Bay Threshold Singers
WHAT: Concert as part of “Arts at the Church” series
WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Trinity Presbyterian Church, 2061 Glenns Bay Road, west of Surfside Beach.
HOW MUCH: Free.
▪ To suggest ideas or performers for other church series concerts – 843-650-0313, or email arts.at.the email@example.com.