Choir’s music has charms to soothe patients on the ‘threshold.’
Photo: Nicole Hamel
When members of the Threshold Choir of Leesburg showed up to sing at a long-term care facility, they encountered a woman who completely tuned them out. She was withdrawn and wouldn’t talk to anybody.
Over the course of more visits, the woman opened her ears, and her heart.
“In the last few months, we’ve gotten her much more engaged, she’s brighter, and she sings along with us,” Leesburg Chapter Director Rochelle Santopoalo says. “Music has such a wonderful effect on people.”
The Threshold Choir is an international women’s a cappella musical ministry with more than 150 chapters. Groups of three or four volunteers go to hospice houses, assisted-living facilities, and other sites to sing nondenominational songs to patients at bedside, free of charge.
At hospices, members sing comforting, lullaby-like “threshold” songs because the patients are on the threshold of death, Rochelle says. At other locations, they pull out “back-pocket songs,” which are more upbeat and well-known to older patients. These songs include “Home on the Range,” “Down by the Riverside,” and patriotic songs such as “America the Beautiful.”
“They’re casual songs that everybody knows, but they’re also singalong songs,” says Rochelle, adding that the choir takes requests, such as one for “Sunshine on My Shoulders” by John Denver—“That’s as close as we get to pop,” she jokes.
The Leesburg chapter formed in 2014 and has 18 members, most of whom are hospice-certified caregivers. The choir sings each month at six facilities around Lake County, and also performs at celebrations of life, charity shows, and the Leesburg Arts Festival. Meanwhile, another chapter covers The Villages, singing primarily at Cornerstone Hospice. Both chapters are busy, but they did get together once for a joint rehearsal to teach each other new songs, Rochelle says.
Rochelle joined the organization because she believed in its mission.
“I wanted to be involved with something that was going to do good for the community,” she says. “All the members like singing in the choir because it’s a nice gift we give to people. I think we get as much out of singing to them as they get from us.”
That may be, but the gift to patients is priceless.
“They sing along and, even for a few moments, they’re transported into a happier time or they at least resurrect old memories,” Rochelle says. “They seem happy.”