Crossing The Threshold From Life To Death, With Music

Dec 19, 2013

I recently met someone who told me she's a member of the Hartford "Threshold Choir," and that she and her choir mates sing at the bedside of the dying.

At a time when you're more likely to encounter choirs of carolers, I thought it might be interesting to hear about some different voices.

What's a threshold choir? It's a group of singers who bring some comfort to those at the "threshold" of life and death. They go in small groups, when invited by the dying person or that person's family, to sing simple songs in gentle voices, original works or special requests. Nothing flashy or loud. Just three or so a capella voices.

There are now about 100 Threshold Choirs around the country, including the first chapter that started in early 2000 in the Bay Area. Several have gotten started recently in our area. You can learn more about joining a choir or requesting singers at

It's such a striking idea to me, to recognize and honor this delicate moment at the end of life, rather than to rail against it or deny it, to help smooth the transition, rather than fight it every step of the way. We have better medicine than ever to prolong life. We spend more on preventing death at the end of life than on any other period of our lives. But at a certain point, death is inevitable. Accepting and facing it with music must somehow make the passage easier.

Doctors-in-training are now more likely to get some training in dealing with death - how to talk to patients, and their families, when it's imminent. As a doctor, it must be difficult to come to terms with the idea that you can't do much more for a person, when you've made an oath to preserve life. But accepting it and helping patients and families face death must also somehow make the passage easier.