With gentle grace, the singers approach a family and harmonize with soft but full intention.
“You are home, you are safe, you are loved,” they sing. They repeat the lyrics, filling the room of a Huntington Beach home with their voices.
The woman they sing for is critically ill but tells them how much she appreciates them.
This is what the Threshold Choir offers — comfort through song.
The end of life brings people to a threshold, and the Threshold Choir of Orange County meets them there to sing and soothe.
Threshold Choir is an international organization based in Santa Rosa, with about 150 primarily women’s groups from Phoenix to Philadelphia, London to Phnom Penh. More than 25 choirs dot California alone.
Jean Turrell-Wright, the Orange County director, is a retired music teacher. She said she joined the choir to continue community service. Referencing lyrics from another song, she said, “We are all just walking each other home.”
The full Orange County choir has about 20 members, with small teams reaching from La Habra to San Juan Capistrano. They try to meet centrally in Westminster every other week to practice.
They visit private homes, hospitals or other care facilities in groups of two to four. Their appearances are free.
The singers receive training in end-of-life issues and respect their role to bring calm. Singer Dorcas Trueman said she finds the emotional stamina through experience.
“I look at the people and I say into my heart, ‘This person is on her journey,’ ” she said.
The singers say their songs are as much for caregivers as those cared for. Most of the songs are simple, with few lyrics. Sometimes they just hum.
Their repertoire ranges from original compositions to hymns to standards such as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “You Are My Sunshine” and “What a Wonderful World.” They sing in English and Spanish and for varied belief systems.
In Huntington Beach, Trueman, Turrell-Wright and Jan Liss swayed on stools they positioned at the foot of the woman’s bed. A silent breeze nudged the sheer curtains, as if to dance along.
When the group finished its “sing,” Trueman turned to the family to offer her gratitude.
“It’s a blessing to be here with you,” she said.
Turrell-Wright said she would like more singers to join and is planning to hold an orientation for new members. Anyone interested can email her at OrangeCounty@thresholdchoir.org.