It seemed like a case of very bad timing that a small Cache Valley women’s choir dedicated to comforting terminally ill patients in their final hours was formed last spring just before the cornavirus pandemic.
The all-volunteer group, called the Cache Valley Threshold Singers, had only visited one patient before their unique service became impossible to perform. Choir members could no longer safely gather to sing together, and even had they chosen to risk it, local care facilities were no longer allowing visitors.
Turns out the impossible had a workaround in the form of technology that has allowed the choir to record their songs without meeting in one place to sing. And now families wanting to comfort a dying loved one with this group’s intimate choral music can simply download it and play it on a phone placed by a pillow.
“We have 15 songs we’ve recorded, and you have no idea how happy we are that we can now offer these to the public to comfort people,” said group organizer Leslie Black, explaining that the hardest part of being impeded by the pandemic was the nagging thought that the choir’s gift was needed more than ever. “It’s been hard these last few months knowing how much loss there has been, how much loneliness there has been. What do the health care workers tell us these days? It’s breaking their hearts to see people alone at bedside dying and suffering.”
Black credits Buffy Evans, co-director of Cache Threshold Singers, with the technological savvy needed to mix and collate separate recordings of each choir member’s voice on each song. Both Black and Evans are members of the Cache Valley-based American Festival Chorus, so musical arrangements and harmonies are something they are very comfortable with.
Some readers may be wondering what’s so special about this group’s songs compared to hymns and other music that might be used to comfort the dying. The answer is most of the songs were written specifically for this purpose and are sung with very soft voices, preferably in person, though now the music is being delivered on recordings due to the pandemic.
“This music is transcending,” Black said with emotion in her voice during an interview with The Herald Journal this week. “Every time I listen to a song or help lead a song or choose a song, something grows in my heart. It’s just lovely and something I think a lot of people need now that we have such isolation through these restrictions.”
The group’s new webpage, hartshots.com/threshold, describes the singers and their music this way:
“We are a group of women who gather to sing spiritual and comforting songs at bedsides of those who are seriously ill, at a crisis or life threshold. Our gentle music specifically communicates love, gratitude, compassion, grace, comfort and peace. These soft, soothing songs, with simple melodies and rich harmonies, convey a calm presence and ease at tender times. We offer a stillness and silence between our songs, so they may settle in the soul.”
The Cache Valley Threshold Singers is affiliated with the international organization “Threshold Choir,” which sponsors more than 200 chapter choirs around the world and has set down a specific protocol for conducting bedside encounters with taste and sensitivity. All of the songs recorded this fall by the Cache singers were written by choir members from other chapters and recorded with special permission.
Because of sensitivity concerns, the songs are only available by invitation through the local group’s webpage or by sending an email to CacheValleyThresholdSingers@gmail.com.
The 15 songs are separated into three digital files with three separate themes — “Calming and Comforting,” “Strength for Dear Ones,” and “Blessings, Inspiration, and Hope.” A smaller selection is also available in Spanish. The lyrics are simple and repetitive, offering messages such as “Love be with you now and always,” and “You are not alone.”
All of the songs are separated by about 30 seconds of soft nature sounds like raindrops or crickets. There is no narrative or introduction to each segment.
Black stressed that the music is free of religious references, and this is again a result of sensitivity concerns.
“If we sing something from someone’s church history, we don’t know their relationship with that history, and it may or may not be wonderful. It may be contentious,” she said. “We don’t touch that part of the soul. … What we try to touch is the transcendent part that offers comfort by listening to something new, something new and lovely.”
Although the Cache Valley choral group has 15 charter members, only eight possessed adequate equipment to participate in the recordings. Live bedside sessions done throughout the Threshold Choir network typically involve only three to six singers.
Black said in the future she hopes to add men to the choir, but that will require writing new vocal parts to the music. For now, she and her cohorts are just excited to share the songs they’ve put together and achieve their original goal of assisting those in need of comfort, albeit in a modified form.
Next on the agenda is making contact with area hospice providers, hospitals and other care facilities to get the word out.
“It’s taken us six months to do these recordings, but I will not stop. This needs to be out there,” Black said.