BY JENNIFER LEONARD
When Melanie Ann Turner first heard about the Threshold Choir from Janiece Jaffe, a local jazz vocalist and “sound healer,” she instantly felt drawn to start a chapter in Bloomington. Like the more than 100 chapters of the International Threshold Choir, founded in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2000, the Bloomington chapter sings to hospice patients on the threshold between living and dying.
Though Turner founded the Bloomington chapter in 2011, the choir did not start singing until 2013. Turner’s formation of the choir was interrupted by her own diagnosis with endometrial cancer. That experience, and Turner’s subsequent recovery, made her more determined than ever to develop the choir and offer its service to IU Health Bloomington Hospital Hospice House.
The Bloomington chapter is currently made up of 11 women, only two of whom are classically trained musicians. Penny Fisher has been a member since 2012. Studies show, Fisher says, that music has the ability to decrease agitation, increase cooperation, improve cognitive function, and divert the mind away from pain. “Clinical studies show that a person’s hearing is often the longest lasting sense,” she adds.
The women in the Threshold Choir practice the technique of blending their voices to create chant-like music intended to soothe the listener. Many times, though, Turner says, it is the grieving family members and hospice staff that their music touches most noticeably.
In addition to the profound experience of bedside singing, Turner cites Wednesday evenings, when the group gathers at a member’s home to rehearse and share personal stories, as a time she feels surrounded by a strong and supportive community.
Lauren Lane Powell first heard about the Threshold Choir in 2012, when she was emerging from her own fight with cancer. Composing music was an important part of her healing process, and when Powell posted a song she’d written on Facebook, someone in San Diego asked for permission to teach it to her Threshold Choir.
Powell responded, “Sure! What’s a Threshold Choir?” When she discovered that a group had already formed in Bloomington, she joined immediately. “This is the most sacred way I have ever used my voice,” Powell says.