There’s no time Kate Munger can remember that her mother wasn’t singing. Every night, Kate and her four siblings would be graced with lullabies at their bedsides. The physical proximity of the vibrations of her mother’s body would activate the cells in Kate.

Now, Kate brings that gift of voice and vibration in service to those at the threshold of the other end of life – singing songs as lullabies at bedside to those near death. In 2000, she founded Threshold Choir, a decentralized, distributed community of more than 1300 volunteer singers now comprising more than 180 locally formed Threshold Choirs around the world. The organization’s vision is to spark a movement for “a world where all at life’s thresholds may be honored with compassion shared through song.” The organization furthers this vision by supporting local voices who come together to offer gentle a capella singing to people in their communities who are dying in hospitals and hospices.

For Kate, the voice, as the original human instrument, is a true and gracious vehicle for compassion and comfort. She speaks of a “tribal inheritance” of singing together and a “lineage and legacy of women singing for millennia”. She describes singing at the bedside as “more a prayer than a performance” — soothing and calming to the dying as well as their family and caregivers. As The Washington Post recently wrote, Threshold Choirs “seems to have tapped into something both primal and much-needed: a growing desire not to recoil from death or abandon the dying but to face that ultimate truth and figure out how to help ease the isolation of those near the end.”

…Threshold Choirs mostly use a repertoire with pieces limited to just a few words, and sung without accompaniment in three-part harmony. The idea is to keep things simple and not tied to any spiritual tradition. Complicated verses could intrude on the process of dying, Kate says. All song choices are made with deep listening to and observation of the person facing death: “It’s about offering them attentive silence. Because what we find is that … it’s between the songs that they can actually integrate and use our singing. [Their response] can be teeny tiny, a flicker of an eyelash. So we’re watching really carefully.”

Kate has recently retired from directing the larger Threshold Choir and has returned to her passion of singing for people who are dying or in coma. She also loves to bring singing community to the incarcerated and to persons released from prison.

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