Freedom Chorale: Walking Each Other Home
By Cindy Paul
When Pastor Robin Moore told me about the Threshold Choirs cropping up all over the world, I asked her what they were about, exactly. She said these people got together and learned very soft, chant-like songs and then sang them a cappella at the bedsides of those who were on the threshold between life and death. I said, “That’s what I want to do!”
It felt natural to create such a choir, because I had recently lost my mother and my husband and was casting about for a creative outlet that would be grounding and nourishing for me. I needed light and what better way to find it than to share it?
So I gathered some like-minded singers, wonderful people with the will to bring a little light into the world. We’ve been singing together since early 2018, and we’ve had some unforgettable experiences along the way. In our “Journal of Sings” we keep notes on the moments that stand out:
“Art was lonely and wanted to talk. He was gracious and full of love, and ended up singing with us, weeping as he sang and as he listened. He told us he forgave his brother and would see him in the light, and he said, many times, that he had been changed by the music.” And another entry: “Today we sang several songs, but the highlight came right after ‘Shenandoah’ when Robert said he didn’t know whether to applaud or pray.”
In striving to deliver comfort and peace through song, our group has learned to sing softly with energy and to sing as one voice, both huge accomplishments for any choir, no matter what size. The number of singers in Freedom Chorale fluctuates, depending on which expats among us happen to be in town. We welcome anyone with a true voice and good attitude, and there’s no need to be able to read music. As director of the Chorale, it’s my hope that eventually we’ll have two groups of singers and can visit twice as many homes where there are shut-ins and people longing for a welcome break in their routine.
Where we sing, what we sing, and why
Today, Freedom Chorale sings at private homes, nursing homes, and in public. We find that even heavily medicated and semi-comatose patients respond to our soft bedside singing, a moving experience for us.
Many of those living in nursing homes are confined to wheelchairs, but enjoy music that is a bit more rowdy than our threshold-style chants and lullabies. For them, we bring about an hour of well-known 60s tunes, and they often sing along. A few titles include “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Country Roads,” and “Peaceful, Easy Feeling.” We just breeze in and start singing, and the staff brings their charges out so they can enjoy music they love for a little while.
Revisiting our youth in 60’s Singalongs
But we don’t stop there! On Tuesdays, Freedom Chorale moseys over to La Bodega de Ajijic to present our 60’s Sing to the public from 4-5:30 pm. We project the lyrics onto a screen, and everybody has a nostalgia fest singing while the guitar plays. We relax with one another, in the unspoken realization that these songs bind us, even as they shaped our collective young identities and our visions of the world we grew up in.
Sound Voyages – an experiment in aural therapy
Along with the nursing homes and the 60s Sing, Freedom Chorale also explores methods of changing energy through sound. This is a fascinating field loosely referred to as ‘sound therapy.’ We employ the chants that we’ve developed in combination with manipulated recordings of sounds such as Tibetan bells and ocean waves. Listeners find their spirits renewed as they are treated to meditative audio cues designed to help them reconnect with their personal still, small voices.
The heart of it all
Though Freedom Chorale is in its infancy, it is mature and focused in its mission. Freedom Chorale singers come from all walks of life. Two were nuns in their early years, and two grew up on a farm. While some of our singers have experience performing, nothing we do is performance-oriented. This is, in fact, the very crux of our character as a choir. When one is performing, it can often be like asking for energy. But when one is chanting, singing softly at a bedside, or happily reliving the songs one learned in high school, it’s more like sharing energy. We connect to others through music and sound, and we create a circle of energy that reverberates long after we physically separate.
For me, directing the group has been incredibly fulfilling. Each time I sing to someone who knows they are dying, each time I share an old 60’s tune with another person of my generation, and each time I see a beaming face after a Sound Voyage session, I know I’m doing what I’m meant to do on this planet.
Singing him home. The Freedom Chorale at a special Ajijic Writers Group meeting on November 30, 2018 to honor Poet Jim Tipton, who had mentored a lot of those writers. They planted a cypress tree with a plaque in the garden at The Nueva Posada. Left to right: Sue Hoffman, Judy McKinnon, Susan Miller, Dave Salyers, Tom McClure, Mimi Hanes, Amy Friend, Lila Wells, Cindy Paul. You can see them perform at the memorial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sA1Mk4_aw-c&feature=youtu.be