Every Friday, Philadelphia Threshold Singers, a volunteer organization, visit Penn Wissahickon Hospice at Rittenhouse to spread comfort to its patients and their families at the bedside.
Since 2012, when co-director Doris Mogen began the all-volunteer 15 member chapter, she and other members sing to patients in their rooms. Periodically throughout their visit, patients and family members ask them if they will stop at their room too.
The Philadelphia Threshold Singers, a local chapter of the International Threshold Choir Organization, is currently all female (although male singers are welcome to join). The dedicated group memorizes songs from the international choir’s repertoire created especially for patients and families at various thresholds of life. Their music, which is not religion-based, is intended to soothe and comfort, and is purposefully unfamiliar so as not to draw on previous uncomfortable associations a patient may have to a song. They also do their best to respond with hymns or other songs. (The singers even revamped one of their own songs in Motown style for the nursing staff when asked.) Only two to four singers come at a time to avoid overwhelming the patient.
“Researchers are starting to identify the benefits of these complementary therapies,” said Jeri A. Timm, manager of Volunteer Services . “It doesn’t always have to be a medication to produce a reduction in anxiety or sleeplessness. Often it’s a psychosocial issue in which the patient needs a volunteer, community support, or music to enhance their care.”
The choir has experienced scenes of loved ones visiting a patient and grieving in varying ways, yet unable to attend the patient meaningfully: kids are playing video games; adults are talking on the phone or watching television. When the choir begins singing, clearly focused on the patient in the bed, the visitors turn their attention to the patient and the present situation.
“These can be bleak and scary moments for families when they are just beginning to acknowledge that their loved one is going to die,” Mogen said. “We bring unexpected beauty. Death happens to all of us. It’s not something to resist and can be beautiful too. That’s what we bring, the possibility of acceptance and seeing the beauty where it is often hard to find.”
For more information on how to volunteer or be a Threshold Singer, please email Jeri.Timm@uphs.upenn.edu.
For more information, visit more coverage of the Threshold Choir at the Penn Medicine News blog.
Photo caption: Doris Mogen and Lana Noel of Philadelphia Threshold, a group which sings for patients at Penn Wissahickon Hospice every week.