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It all began in trendy California. The inventor was Kate Munger, whose good friend was dying from complications due to HIV/AIDS in 1990. As Munger sat bedside, she instinctively began to sing. “As I sang, he got more calm and I got more calm,” she says. Even though he was comatose, she says, his facial […]

It all began in trendy California. The inventor was Kate Munger, whose good friend was dying from complications due to HIV/AIDS in 1990. As Munger sat bedside, she instinctively began to sing.

“As I sang, he got more calm and I got more calm,” she says. Even though he was comatose, she says, his facial color and expression changed, proof to her that he was hearing the music.

And thus, the concept of Threshold Choir was born. The first official meeting was held on March 21, 2000, in the El Cerrito, Calif., home of Munger’s friend, Katharine Osburn. Since then, 60 chapters have sprung up around the country, and there’s one in England.

The Rev. Karen Hagen of Tippecanoe Presbyterian Church in Bay View started Milwaukee’s chapter in 2004 with the Rev. Janis Blean-Kachigan of Summerfield United Methodist Church. It has 12 members (all women, though men are welcome) who meet at Hagen’s East Side home twice a month.

“What intrigued me is they’re simple songs for healing, wholeness and peace,” says Hagen. “This isn’t about quality of singing. It’s about the quality of your heart. It’s a lived experience of prayerful song.”

Though Hagen and Blean-Kachigan are both ministers, the group is not religious. Songs range from spiritual hymns to lullabies to Bach to Bob Dylan. Some chapters (Hagen’s included) even write their own songs.

Peggy Hong, a former Milwaukee Poet Laureate and owner of Riverwest Yogashala, has been with the group since last spring.

“It’s an amazing, intimate experience,” Hong says. “We sang for an Alverno College student in hospice, and she responded by reaching her arm skyward. We sang for an elderly woman with no family with her in her last days. Singing is almost nonverbal communication. Its effects penetrate the body, emotions, soul and spirit.”

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Hong continues, “I sang for my father and mother when they were each crossing over, and I hope when I’m dying, I will have Threshold singers to inspire my transition.”

 

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