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Comfort through song

Ann Bermingham reflects on her involvement in the Brisbane Threshold Choir and the role singing plays in bringing comfort to those who are seriously ill or nearing the end of their lives.   

There’s a saying which goes something like, “Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans”. My becoming a community choral conductor was like that. Many years ago, an opportunity was presented, and my saying “yes” to it has profoundly influenced my life ever since.

On reflection, the adage is also a very apt description of how choirs work. Choirs, by definition, exist to perform. The best performances however, are informed by all of the things that happen offstage in the so-called ”rehearsal” for the real event – the hilarity when things go terribly wrong; the silence at the end of a song when the magic and mystery is palpable in the space; the joy at news of a birth, or a significant personal achievement; the tears in times of illness, tragedy or death in the choir community - the remarkable feat of individuals coming together, both to embrace and transcend differences, in the wisdom of knowing that together we can create something greater than our individual efforts.


I believe that this is the space in which Threshold Choirs find themselves. Established in the United States in 2000 by Kate Munger, the central purpose is to sing for, and with, those at the thresholds of living and dying; spaces often marked by grief and suffering. There are now choirs in over 150 communities around the world. We offer comfort through “a calm and focussed presence, gentle voices, and simple songs”.

While we rehearse as a full choir, we sing at people’s bedsides in groups of two to four as an acknowledgment of the intimate space into which we are stepping. We perform when and where we are invited to do so, with a focus on an audience of one, and in the presence of that person’s loved ones and carers.  

Singing in this context relates more closely to ritual than to performance.  It connects us to traditional cultures and to our forebears, from a time when the community consciously witnessed and marked life’s transitions in a very direct way. 



The Threshold ethos also sits comfortably in a broader context of societal shift and mourning, for example when members of the Sydney Threshold Choir sang outside the Lindt Cafe after the siege in 2014.

Threshold Choirs hold the common threads of the choral experience – the claiming of our singing birthright, the joy of doing it with others, and the associated or intentional building of community. 

For me though, as I sing for others at bedsides, it’s clear that there’s no rehearsal for life, and I am brought closer to the reality and inevitability of my own death. I feel privileged that my work as an artist has given me this additional opportunity.

For more information about Threshold Choirs, go to  

To find out about Brisbane Threshold Choir, and to contact us, go to our facebook page.

Ann Birmingham

Ann Bermingham works as a Choral Conductor and Arranger, Performer, Workshop Leader and Musical Director and has been involved in many music projects with festivals, schools and community groups in her years of working as a freelance musician.

In addition to her role as Musical Director and Co-Founder, with Jane Carpenter, of Brisbane Threshold Choir, Ann conducts Peace ‘n’ Choir, and The Stradbroke Island Singers. She was recently the Musical Director for Dames and Daredevils for Democracy which celebrated the lives and achievements of some of Australia’s suffragists.

Ann performs traditional Bulgarian music, with Zhiva Voda, and is also in the acoustic folk duo, Pandora.   





Feature image: Brisbane Threshold Choir – 2014. Photographer: Caitlin Morgan

Banner image: Photo by Valentino Funghi on Unsplash