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Yellow Springs Hosts Threshold Choir Midwest Gathering

Jerry Kenney
Joan Ackerman and Noki at home in Yellow Springs

In 1990, a woman named Kate Munger was losing her friend Larry, who was dying of HIV/AIDS. Larry was in a coma and Munger says she was “terrified” as she sat with him before his passing.

“I did what I always did when I was afraid; I sang the song that gave me courage,” she recalls. “ I sang it for 2 ½ hours. It comforted me, which comforted him. The contrast between the morning and the afternoon was profound. I felt as if I had given generously of my essence to my dear friend while I sang to him. I also found that I felt deeply comforted myself, which in turn was comforting to him.”

Years later, as Munger tells the story, she was driving home and decided to sing for any animals she passed that had been killed on the road.

“These two moments, combined with my love of singing with wonderful women and being of service, were the inspiration for the Threshold Choir.

The choir that began with one group of 15 women, now has chapter in states across the U.S. and more than 100 chapters around the world. Volunteers “singing to folks who are facing death, grief, or suffering.”

More than a hundred Threshold Singers, from dozens of chapters throughout the Midwest, gathered in Yellow Springs this past weekend.

Joan Ackerman lives in Yellow Springs and has been singing with the Threshold chapter there for about eight years.

“I think it's very, very important work,” she says. “It's lullabies for people in transition at the end of their lives, going through difficult time, healing - not always the very end of one's life, but usually. It's enriching, it really makes me feel, think about people, think about myself, be mindful, and I've found it to be a very good addition to my life.”

Ackerman found the Threshold Choir as she was transitioning herself, from a life of work to one of retirement – She calls herself “redirected” rather than retired. Ackerman says there aren’t a lot of young people in the movement.

“Although there are some,” she says. “Most of us are people of a certain age, you know, more towards the end of days than the beginning of days, and we've had to come to terms with the fact that there will be a goodbye, and for ourselves as well. And it’s not a morbid kind of thought. It's an optimistic thought that when our time is over, we can leave this earth, hopefully surrounded by joyful sounds and joyful thoughts.”

Ackerman says Threshold singers are “very like-minded people for the most part,” but they are people from all walks of life.

“And we don't really socialize together,” she says. “Maybe some of us do from time to time, but basically we meet once a week and we practice. One of those meetings we do at Friends Care, and while we're practicing singing, we're singing to a group of residents who choose to be there, which is different from going into a particular room or to a particular client one on one, but we feel both of those are meaningful contributions. And the bond is really a bond of wanting to be of service. Basically, that's what it's about, wanting to be of service at a very tender time.”

While there were no public performances or demonstrations from the Threshold singers gathered in Yellow Springs, Ackerman says those interested in joining their mission simply need to reach out through the organization’s national website.

Jerry Kenney was introduced to WYSO by a friend and within a year of first tuning in became an avid listener and supporter. He began volunteering at the station in 1991 and began hosting Alpha Rhythms in February of 1992. Jerry joined the WYSO staff in 2007 as a host of All Things Considered and soon transitioned into hosting Morning Edition. In addition to now hosting All Things Considered, Jerry is the host and producer of WYSO Weekend, WYSO's weekly news and arts magazine. He has also produced several radio dramas for WYSO in collaboration with local theater companies. Jerry has won several Ohio AP awards as well as an award from PRINDI for his work with the WYSO news department. Jerry says that the best part of his job is being able to talk to people in the community and share their experiences with WYSO listeners.