Arts and Entertainment

A choir to sing you over the threshold

Whidbey Island Threshold Choir members will sing hospice patients into the next world, or just brighten the day of those who are ill. Practicing a song are, from the left, founding members Linda Edling, Lori Ray Rubin and Netsha Zylinsky.   - Jim Larsen/Whidbey News-Times
Whidbey Island Threshold Choir members will sing hospice patients into the next world, or just brighten the day of those who are ill. Practicing a song are, from the left, founding members Linda Edling, Lori Ray Rubin and Netsha Zylinsky.
— image credit: Jim Larsen/Whidbey News-Times

A “threshold choir” is forming on Whidbey Island to give comfort to the ill and help the dying transition peacefully into the next realm.

The Whidbey Island Threshold Choir is being founded by several women involved in a similar group on Anacortes that has been active for a couple of years. All are patterned after the first threshold choir founded by Kate Munger in 2000 in San Francisco.

Today there are 81 threshold choirs in the U.S., Canada, Australia and Iceland. Munger will be in this area Sept. 13 to visit the Anacortes choir and help the Whidbey Island group get started.

Threshold choir members sing sweetly and softly at the bedside, but only when asked by family members and hospice workers. The new group plans to work closely with the two hospices serving the island.

“We’re always invited,” said Linda Edling, one of the founders of the Whidbey group.

People on the threshold of death won’t be hearing any Broadway tunes. Instead, the women opt for traditional songs taken primarily from other cultures, or songs written by choir members themselves.

Three of the Whidbey group founders, Edling, Lori Ray Rubin and Netsha Zylinsky, are practicing a Nigerian song called “Isha Oh Luw Ah,” which translates into “love cannot be destroyed.”

Edling said songs to die by aren’t really part of American cultures, but in other parts of the world singing is just part of life, from birth to death. “They sing you in and sing you out,” she said.

The group will also consider requests by family members. In Anacortes, a family wanted a loved one to be escorted out of this world to the tune of “My Old Kentucky Home.”

All three of the Whidbey founders have hospice backgrounds and they’ve seen how soft singing can ease a patient’s state of mind, whether they’re in a coma, on the verge of death or just very sick.

Munger, on the threshold choir website, states that the all-women choirs honor the ancient tradition of singing at the bedsides of people who are struggling: “Some with living, some with dying.”

She describes the voice as “the original human instrument, a true and gracious vehicle for compassion and comfort.”

Edling said two or three choir members will visit the bedside on an ongoing basis, for as long as is necessary for “healing, comfort or transition.” For information, call 678-1073 or 675-3420.

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