As this pandemic stretches on, I’ve been coming to terms with our new reality and how it impacts so much, including my singing life. Although this COVID-19 world looks rather different from anything I could’ve imagined earlier this year, I want to share something that has made me especially grateful and hopeful in recent weeks: my volunteer work (now virtual) with the DC Chapter of Threshold Choir and our opportunities to adapt our mission in the face of uncertainty.
To back up a bit and introduce myself, I graduated from UVA in May of 2014, after spending seven glorious semesters in Jubilate. As I’m sure is true for many Jubilate alumni, I could write at length about what this group meant to me in college and its lasting effects on me today. That also set a very high bar for finding a similar singing community after moving away from Charlottesville.
Fast forward to September of 2017, when I joined the Washington, DC chapter of the international organization, the Threshold Choir. Our mission is to provide comfort through song to people on the thresholds of life. Before COVID-19 altered the look of our mission, we, in small groups, would visit and sing in facilities providing end-of-life care. We’d sing to the staff as well as at the bedside of hospice patients, occasionally surrounded by their friends and family members, too. In other words, as we say, this is kindness made audible.
Although our choir has no religious affiliation, we have had unique, spiritual experiences in spending precious time with people who are dying. One particular memory from last summer comes to mind. During a volunteer shift with a Jewish singer in our group, she and I sang to an elderly Black woman sitting in the hall in her wheelchair. Her eyes were so warm and kind but her words a little slurred and hard to follow. We sang a few of the songs in our repertoire and then asked our patient if she had requests for us. We managed to interpret her saying “Amazing Grace,” so we proceeded. Within moments, she closed her eyes and, in a voice as clear as day, began to recite the Lord’s Prayer as we sang to her. We continued to sing as she finished her spoken prayer, and she eventually joined in to sing, too. In spite of her speech difficulties, she knew every word and sang them all flawlessly.
While COVID-19 has made this work now impossible to do in person, our choir has continued to meet virtually a few times each month and recently began to sing to both patients and health care workers via technologies like Zoom. After accepting that COVID-19 will likely remain with us for a while, we’ve tried to adapt so that we can continue to provide comfort through song to patients and their caretakers. Nothing can replace the in-person connections that are so meaningful, but we are nonetheless grateful to still be able to continue this mission in this adjusted capacity.
The impact of COVID-19 on choirs has no doubt been challenging and heartbreaking. I hope that those of us who love and miss singing together in person are able to still find creative ways to share music. I have learned that doing so—even virtually—can be both healing to others and life-affirming to me. Not even a pandemic can suppress the joy of song.
Hope you all are doing and staying as well and safe as possible,