The Crestone Eagle • May, 2019

The Crestone Threshold Singers

Free May event introduces local group that sings to those who are dying

by Gussie Fauntleroy

If you wonder what it would feel like to be gently bathed in the sound of angelic voices softly singing straight into your heart, you don’t need to wait until you’re at the doorstep of death. The Crestone Threshold Singers, a small group of local women available to sing at the bedsides of those who are dying, will share their voices and songs in a free public event on Wed., May 22 at 4pm at the home of Jillian and Bill Ellzey, 891 Camino Real. (Please RSVP by emailing Anrahyah Arstad, anrahyah@yahoo.com.) The “Community Sound Bath” will introduce the Crestone Threshold Singers and demonstrate the group’s service, which is available at no charge for those passing over the threshold of life. Attendees at the event will be offered the invitation (one at a time) to sit in a soft reclining chair in the center of the circle of singers, to experience its nurturing power.

The group is a local chapter of the Threshold Choir, a non-profit national and international organization founded in 2000 by California resident Kate Munger. There are now more than 150 Threshold Choir chapters nationwide and others around the world. When invited by a family or loved ones, a few singers—usually three or four—spend about 20 minutes at the bedside of the dying person. Their soft, unaccompanied voices blend in exquisite harmony or in unison as they sing simple, soothing, non-religious songs, almost all of which have been written specifically for this type of occasion by Threshold Choir members from around the country.

The Crestone Threshold Singers formed about a year ago, after Baca resident Jillian Ellzey met Kate Munger the previous year at a singing circle retreat. Jillian, who has studied and led Yoga of the Voice practices for a number of years, is founder and leader of the local choral group, Crestone Songbirds. As it happened, another Songbirds member, Anrahyah Arstad, had also heard about the Threshold Choir and was intrigued.

Currently the Crestone chapter is comprised of eight women, all of whom are also Songbirds members: Jillian, Anrahyah, Julia Voss, Sharon Corcoran, Suzie Ryan, Jyoti Stuart, Anne Silver, and Lin Salmi. The women meet twice monthly to practice Threshold Choir songs and share about their lives—the deep and meaningful nature of their service has deepened their friendship as well.

Sitting in a circle at a recent practice, the members begin, as always, by reciting an expression of their intention. It includes the desire to bring “our highest selves to the work for which we train, knowing that it is these most generous, honest, loving selves we must bring to the bedsides of our precious clients.” Then they harmonize their voices in what they call the “centering song.”

As with all Threshold Choir songs, the words to this one are few, simple, and heartfelt: “I am sending you light, to heal you, to hold you; I am sending you light, to hold you in love.” The phrases are repeated several times in various combinations of harmony. The element of repetition seems to promote a calming, comforting feeling, which can reach deeply into the patient, as well as into family or caregivers who are present, the singers explain.

“The person who is dying has a very important job: to let go,” Jillian says. “We’re supporting that, we’re doing this to help them let go.” For this reason, the blending of voices must be so refined and on pitch that no single voice stands out, so as not to be distracting. As the Threshold Choir website explains, “We offer our singing as gentle blessings, not as entertainment, and we are honored when a client falls asleep as we are singing.”

In fact, Jillian remembers that when she was first introduced to the Threshold Choir concept she was struck by how it is like singing lullabies to the dying. As with lullabies, a tender focus on the one being sung to means listening not only with the ears, but also with the heart. “The softer you sing, the better you listen, and the better you listen, the softer you sing,” Sharon says.

But the offering of compassion and intimate, gentle kindness through song is never a one-way gift. “There’s such a grace when you walk into a room where a person is on the cusp. It is we who are given the gift,” Suzie says. Anrahyah adds that it “feels like a remarkable privilege to be there.” Julia served for a number of years on the Crestone End of Life Project’s care of the body team, assisting family and loved ones in preparing the deceased for cremation. Singing to someone on this side of the threshold involves that same sense of sacredness and flow of unconditional love, she says.

The collective Threshold Choir repertoire includes more than 300 songs, most of them short and all appropriate for someone of any or no religious orientation. The Crestone Threshold Singers can also learn and sing songs from specific religious or spiritual traditions if requested; for example, something in Hebrew.

Yet the values explicitly expressed in the Threshold Choir’s written materials and embraced by its members are universal. Among them: honesty, sincerity, care, and respect in all interactions; the transformative power of love and the healing power of presence; the dignity, worth, and uniqueness of all people; and the sanctity of all life. “Kindness made audible” is the organization’s motto. “I’ve always felt that in my heart,” Julia says. “And we have the opportunity to offer it.”

For more information on the Crestone Threshold Singers’ public event or to request their presence at someone’s bedside, contact Anrahyah at 719-429-9593 or anrahyah@yahoo.com