Merrimack Valley Hospice will soon be home to the new "Threshold Choir," a volunteer choir that will act as living jukebox for clients of the hospice, patients at local hospitals and residents at local nursing homes.

The choir, which will officially form later this month, has already made its sound known throughout the hospice by singing carols and season hits throughout the halls last December. Directors expect to enlist at least 30 interested singers from the community, hospice employees or otherwise. They will offer free voice training and development to help spur a harmonious group. Currently, 13 singers have joined the chorus.

Those either entering the hospice or currently receiving service there can opt into the program and request members to learn their favorite songs, from classic parlor music to modern rock hits. A choir of three or four singers can form at the request of a patient.

Hospice Volunteer Services Manager Sheryl Meehan, the lead organizer of the Threshold project, said she got the idea through a movie. After more research, she discovered that choirs were actually a phenomenon cropping up all over the country.

"Giving this gift to our patients is a wonderful opportunity," Meehan said. "We want to be there whenever the patient needs us."

Meehan hopes the choir will serve not only hospice patients but also those in neighboring nursing homes and hospitals.

The threshold choir movement began on March 21, 2000, in El Cerrito, Calif., when founder Kate Munger discovered a spiritual peace of mind after singing to a comatose friend slowly dying of AIDS. Since then, Munger has worked to start choirs throughout the country.

"This is a way for our grief-phobic culture to find ways to reduce sorrow," Munger said. "It really helps foster collaboration and understanding."

Munger noted this would be the fifth threshold choir in New England. Choirs already operate in Marlborough, Littleton and throughout the Boston area.

Leading choir operations on a day-to-day basis are musical directors Lisa Kynvi and Judith Whitney.

Kynvi, an experienced singer and the hospice's music therapist, said she had some experience with threshold choirs while working with Munger in Montana.

"I actually wanted to start a threshold choir when I moved out east," said Kynvi.

Kynvi said familiar songs bring a sort of homely comfort to those "knocking on heaven's door."

"Human voice and connection are some of the most important things you can bring to the end of someone's life," she said. "This is a real service to them."

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