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Singers seek to ease grieving

June 6, 2013 Updated: June 6, 2013 at 10:10 am
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photo - Annie Garretson and Sally Rothstein of the Pikes Peak Threshold Singers.
Annie Garretson and Sally Rothstein of the Pikes Peak Threshold Singers. 

Our society isn't comfortable with death and grief. We don't know what to say or do, so often we don't do anything. Mourners put the pieces back together by themselves.

A national group made it their mission to embrace death, rather than retreat from it. It's called the Threshold Singers. The Pikes Peak Threshold Singers is the small nine-person chapter located in Colorado Springs. There are about 100 chapters around the world.

When invited, they will come in trios to the bedsides of those in hospice. In the Springs, they usually volunteer at Pikes Peak Hospice & Palliative Care. Gathered around the bed, they gorgeously harmonize a capella on simple songs such as "May Peace Be With You," "So Many Angels" and "You Are Not Alone." Their singing not only soothes the person in hospice, but also the family members and friends who are there.

"We walk with people when they are in their grief," says Sally Rothstein, a founding member of the local chapter. "I know the gift it is for me when people are willing to stand with me."

Two concerts with the local Threshold Singers will take place Friday and Saturday. Their featured guest will be Threshold member Melanie DeMore, who is from the San Francisco Bay Area. She is an internationally renowned singer, choral director and composer who helped found the Grammy-nominated vocal ensemble Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir.

The community sing on Friday will be a mass singing event led by DeMore, featuring a capella vocal exercises, her original music and a mix of spirituals and other songs. The Pikes Peak Threshold Singers and Colorado Springs Children's Chorale will also participate.

The event on Saturday is a concert featuring DeMore, members of the Pikes Peak Threshold Singers and the Pikes Peak Singers group from the Colorado Springs Children's Chorale.

Funds raised at the events will support the making of "Voices of Grief," a documentary film by Pikes Peak Community Foundation in Woodland Park that explores death and the grieving process in our culture. Part of the proceeds will also go to the Threshold Singers.

The first Threshold Choir blossomed in 2000 in an El Cerrito, Calif., living room with Kate Munger. Ten years earlier, she sat at the bedside of a dying friend and, in her helplessness, did the only thing she knew to do - sing. In doing so, she knew she had found her calling. She spent the next decade learning to sight read and leading community sings before gathering together the group of women now known as the original chapter of the Threshold Choir.

Doris Mogen and Rothstein helped found the Springs chapter in 2010. A few months later, Annie Garretson joined as a co-director, and Mogen has since stepped down.

Garretson is a local folk singer who has recorded three CDs, and Rothstein is a lifelong singer.

Twice a month on Tuesdays, the group of women come together to practice selections from their songbook, talk and process their experiences singing at hospice. They sit in a circle, close enough so their knees can touch for strength and comfort. Toward the end of each rehearsal, they choose one member to sing to. She rests in a reclining chair while the others huddle around her and quietly choose songs, much as they do at hospice bedsides.

"I am not a 'woo woo' person," DeMore said in an April interview with Chorus America. "I was born in the South Bronx. But there is something about the power of the voice to shift molecular stuff and you can see that. You can see somebody, for even a moment, get back into the center of themselves because of the music, because of that vibration. It is just a fact."

Threshold Singers are often drawn to the work because of their own experience with loss, Garretson and Rothstein say. To be a healthy presence at the dying person's bedside, a singer needs to have dealt with her own grief. One must be able to work without dissolving, Garretson says.

"The work is so rich, and gets you in touch with life," Garretson says. "It makes you appreciative of life and the emotions around death. It's important to honor that. It feels valuable to provide that."

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Jennifer Mulson can be reached at 636-0270.

"lifted by song"

Two performances

Who: Community sing with Melanie DeMore

When: 5:30-8 p.m. Friday

Where: First Congregational Church, 20 E. St. Vrain St.

Tickets: $5 suggested donation; 286-0612, vogevents.org, voicesofgrief.org, thresholdchoir.org

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