Whidbey Island Threshold Singers Bring Comfort

Posted in Feature, More Stories, Music

BY KATE POSS
Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
December 14, 2016

The Whidbey Island Threshold Singers provide gentle harmony at the bedside of the dying and those in need of loving lullabies, creating a sense of peace and calm. They sing for those who are in hospice, those who are dying or ill, or those who simply enjoy their company, such as Dorothy Lepisto, who lives in Langley.

Lepisto was under hospice care a few years ago, but instead of passing away, she continues to enjoy life at the age of 96. One of the gifts she took away from her hospice experience was the soothing music of the Threshold Singers. A small group continues to visit her each week, singing her favorite songs. During the Christmas season, they will sing her favorite Christmas carols, along with some favorite Threshold tunes that are printed in songbooks at Lepisto’s home.

Three women singing to a fourth

Whidbey Island Threshold Singers Gaea Van Brede, Effie Brown, and Christa Straub singing to Dorothy Lepisto. (Photo courtesy of Whidbey Island Threshold Singers)

The singers don’t just sing at bedsides. On All Soul’s Eve, Nov. 1, visitors to the Langley Woodmen Cemetery heard their soothing tones while the wind blew through the tall firs and sent black clouds flying across the moon. For a moment, their song and the weather connected visitors to those who have passed on.

The Whidbey Island Threshold Singers are a branch of the Threshold Choir, an international community that sings soothing and heartfelt songs, many of which were written by the original choir’s creators. With its first performance in 2000 in El Cerrito, California, the seed planted by Kate Munger, who created the first Threshold Choir, has blossomed to include more than 150 choirs worldwide. You can view and listen to examples of Threshold singing here.

Anne Zontine, a member of the Whidbey Island Threshold Singers for the past six years, says that singing and blending harmonies with others is a transcending experience that is shared with those they sing for.

“It is all about the vibration of love flowing through us,” says Zontine, whose sister passed away a few weeks ago. “I was with her the day before she died. The following day, I was on the ferry, and I could feel her presence. I was singing for her and with her.”

Zontine recalls a time when the singers sang for a dying person who was agitated. She and her sister singers sat nearby and sang softly in calming tones.

“The person who was dying was calmer and so was the family,” Zontine says.

At another time Threshold Singers arrived a few minutes after a family member died.

“We asked the family if it was okay that we sing, and they said we could,” says Zontine. “It was a tremendous experience. The family appreciated us and I experienced the sense of an angelic presence.”

The Whidbey Island Threshold Singers are comprised of about a dozen women, most of whom are 50 or older.

“It takes a certain willingness to work with death and dying and sickness,” says Christa Straub, a long-time member who helps coordinate singers’ visits and rehearsals. “Our work makes you aware of your own mortality. Seeing people at the end of their lives makes you think of your life and how you wish to live the rest of it.”

 

Two women singing

Christa Straub, left and Effie Brown sing with Dorothy Lepisto of Langley. (Photo by Raymond Poss)

While the aim of Threshold Singers is to provide a loving and calming experience to those who need it, their harmonic singing is a curative to some of the members as well.

Linda Schrock, a nurse of 30-plus years who moved to the Coupeville area with her husband a few years ago, found that joining the Threshold Choir actually relieved chronic pain.

At the time, she suffered from chronic back pain and thought she would need surgery. She consulted an orthopedic surgeon, David Hanscom, who said that before he would perform surgery, she needed to practice pain management techniques. Schrock read Hanscom’s book, “Back in Control: A Spine Surgeon’s Roadmap Out of Chronic Pain,” which recommends that one way to break out of the vicious cycle of pain, the anxiety and anger it causes, and the way anxiety and anger exacerbate pain, is to do something that makes you happy.

“I thought what really appeals to me? I grew up with Amish Mennonites in Indiana and sang in an a cappella choir. What a thrill that was. I did a search of a cappella choirs on Whidbey Island and found the Threshold Singers. Singing with these deep and soulful women every week at practice, I found that my back healed, and I never did need surgery.”

Schrock works with the Careage of Whidbey activity director and arranges for Threshold Singers to comfort various residents with song once a month.

“I get more out of this than I give,” Schrock says. “We make a point of tuning in to each other’s voices. It is powerful to have loving eye contact and deep personal connection with those we sing for. It’s been a real blessing!”

To receive the gift of the Threshold Singers’ soothing song, or to visit a Tuesday rehearsal, visit their website, call 360-331-7633 or 208-870-5325, or send  email to WhidbeyIsland@thresholdchoir.org. You can purchase CDs of Threshold Choir music here.

Kate Poss worked as a library assistant at the Langley Library until last June. She was thrilled to work for three summers as a chef aboard a small Alaskan tour boat from 2008 to 2010. She was a newspaper reporter in Los Angeles for many years before moving to Whidbey Island, where she likes “talking story,” hiking, hosting salons, and writing her novel.

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