When Paonia resident Peggy Clements was on the cusp of life and death, the Threshold Choir of Paonia came to her bedside and sang. Clements passed away on Jan. 13, six weeks shy of her 105th birthday. Clements' daughter, Karen Budinger, said it was comforting to her mother to have the choir sing to her. "They would come, sing songs, and leave quietly," she said.
"It's really quite an honor," said Krista Dudley, one of the choir members whose voice was among the last Clements heard. "We all felt very grateful to do that."
Dudley helped to establish the choir about a year and a half ago after moving to the area from Vashon, Wash., where she sang in the Vashon Threshold Choir.
Threshold Choirs have brought songs of comfort to the dying since 2000. Founder Kate Munger of El Cerrito, Calif., started the organization after singing for a friend who was dying of HIV/AIDS. The Paonia choir is one of more than 200 chapter choirs performing throughout the world under the greater umbrella of the Threshold Choir.
The organization operates under a model of "kindness made audible," said Dudley. "Our work is to be of service at the bedside of folks in their threshold time."
Paonia is one of three Threshold Choirs on the Western Slope and performs, when called upon, throughout the North Fork area. Members are all volunteers, and there is no fee for the service. "This is truly a sacred service that we are all honored to do," said Dudley.
The national organization has a repertoire of some 600 songs, most written by choir members in three-part harmony, and sung a cappella and in soft-but-uplifting tones. Choirs have discretion in choosing what songs to perform, and will accommodate the wishes of the family and the dying person's belief system. With Peggy Clements, since she was very involved in her church, said Dudley, they sang a traditional church hymn.
When they sang the hymn for her mother, said Budinger, "You could see her moving her lips. She knew the words." As the choir was leaving, "She asked for their names so she could pray for each of them individually."
The Paonia choir currently has about 15 members. Because they sing in teams of three, they are available on short notice, said Dudley. If only one member is available, that one member will go and sing.
They also welcome others interested in joining. Many choir members are inspired to join because they have worked with Hospice or in fields related to caring for others. While most choir members are women, and songs are written for women's voices. "It's not an exclusive women-only thing," said Dudley. According to the organization, she said, "It's hard to blend female and male voices at the bedside. It takes practice." If men are interested, she said, the choir would consider working with them, or possibly forming a men's choir.
Until the choir can get a website, those interested in joining or having them sing for a loved one can submit a request on the organization's website, threshold
choir.org (under the "Our Service" tab), and someone will contact them.