In the twilight hours of early evening, three women gather around a bedside. Their voices are gentle and soothing; their lyrics and harmonies weave a spell. The lines on the face of the man in the bed smooth out a bit; the family members in the room visibly relax. This is the magic created by Threshold Singers of Ann Arbor, and Threshold Choirs in more than two hundred locations around the world. The Threshold Choirs sing to people in the midst of a transformative life event: most often dying, but also recovering from illness or surgery, going through difficult emotional times, or being in chronic pain. They sing in hospitals and hospices, at nursing homes, in private homes, and once in a while, for the general public.
When I emailed Anne Ormond to ask if I could interview her for this profile in the Crazy Wisdom Journal she replied, “Sure, why not? For Crazy Wisdom? That is a pretty good description of me—crazy wisdom.” The answer is typical Anne; brief, perceptive, a little self-deprecating, and witty. In a later conversation I said to her, “A lot of people your age are doing a fraction of what you’re doing,” she shot back with, “A lot of people my age are dead.” Anne is 83, and still busily engaged in a dizzying array of organizations and activities. “Well, I got to be 83, and I am still healthy—through pure luck and heredity, and maybe also thanks to my healthy life-style. I am constantly doing things; physical, mental, social, and spiritual. Many things that I do fit into more than one category. I choose to do things that I love. I have passions.” And she seems compelled to seize every opportunity to wring as much as possible out of every single moment.
If you have never had a kid leave trombone spit on your floor, you haven’t really lived. Seriously though, parenting kids through music lessons can be a unique and rewarding experience. Music lessons really teach kids a different set of life skills than they could get from any other activity — from self-awareness to fine motor skills to better listening and introduction to meditation. Today there are tons of options that fit every family, schedule, and kid.
Last spring I heard Aaron Dworkin, violinist and former Dean of the U-M School of Music, Theater & Dance, speak at a leadership workshop at Zingerman’s Roadhouse. He expressed the best part of playing in a group/ensemble as a child was that he felt like he was ‘included’ for the first time in his life. Prior to this, he didn’t know anyone else like him and he lacked a sense of ‘belonging.’ He inspired me to investigate further. I wanted to hear from Ann Arbor students and teachers about their experience playing music in collaboration with others and what it means to them.
We have all read articles touting the positive effects of music on brain development, and seen the studies that show music can improve test scores and academic performance in children. What isn’t written about so much are the social and emotional benefits of music.
It was clear to me that our family was “different” when it was the Ohio Michigan game, and instead of tailgating, we were all home watching a documentary of the history of jazz in America. At intermission, our dog ran figure eights around the multiple music stands and instruments that were scattered about the living room floor. Why the living room, you ask? There is no basement in our house. We like to think that by allowing kids to play in wide open spaces, it makes the whole house vibrate to some higher frequency.