YOU Issue: Charlottesville Threshold Singers soothe with bedside harmonies

“The Charlottesville Threshold Singers have been singing to hospice patients and others in need of comfort and peace for more than a dozen years.”—Lynn Pribus

It wasn’t easy for Lynn Pribus to move from California to Charlottesville 11 years ago, despite being closer to her children and grandchildren. She missed writing for the Sacramento Bee, and the artistic community she’d been a part of while living in Sacramento for 25 years. Almost immediately upon arrival, Pribus saw an ad for the Charlottesville Threshold Singers in a Nellysford publication, and just one week after her cross-country move, she attended her first rehearsal with the group.

“I felt a great sense of harmony,” Pribus remembers. “Not just in the music and the harmonies we sing, which are often very rich. There was a harmony among the women members. I immediately felt at home.”

In 2000, Kate Munger founded the first Threshold Choir in El Cerrito, California, in hope of providing comfort to individuals “on the threshold” between life and death. Several members of Charlottesville Women’s Choir met Munger in 2006 at a Sister Singers Network festival in San Diego, and three months later, the Charlottesville chapter of the Threshold Choir was born.

Earlier this year, the all-volunteer singing group changed its name to the Threshold Singers. Pribus says the title change brings less religious imagery to mind.

“Our members are Jewish, Christian, and some not anything at all,” she says. “Some are longtime married, some are divorced, and some are single. We’re gay and straight. All you have to do is sing and care.”

The group sings as a free service at hospitals, nursing homes, or private residences, and also for residents of long-term care facilities like Cedars Healthcare Center, where they rehearse. When the singers gather at a person’s deathbed, they sing slowly and softly, and the songs are usually unfamiliar to listeners, with two or three lines of verse repeated.

Pribus says this gentle repetition transforms the song into a mantra. In one of the group’s lullaby-like serenades, singers recite, “We’re all just walking each other home.” In another—Pribus’ current favorite—the lyrics read, “In the quiet of this moment, I am at peace. / All is well.”

“I like that feeling of all is well, even when a person is very near death,” says Pribus. She tells a story of singing three times for one elderly man in the hospital.

“The second time we sang for him, he was restless, unresponsive, and seemed to not be hearing much,” Pribus recalls. When the singers returned for their next visit, someone asked if he’d like the women to sing for him again.

“He very clearly said, ‘Yes’,” Pribus remembers. “You could see him calming down. He drifted off to sleep. It was two days before he died.”

Pribus often sees friends, family, nurses, and doctors finding solace while the group sings for a patient. At a recent event in Alexandria that celebrated caregivers, she says many of the nurses and other caregivers in the room started crying.

“So often, what they give isn’t recognized. It becomes a part of who you are and what you do,” says Pribus.

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