Singing to relieve suffering

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Singing to relieve suffering

Co-founders of the Brisbane Threshold Choir, Ann Bermingham (left) and Jane Carpenter.

The soul-enriching harmonies of an acapella choir which sings to relieve suffering will enrich Deathfest in Brisbane with two performances from Saturday.

Deathfest is curated by Metro Arts which describes it as “the first arts and culture festival of its kind in Queensland”. The week-long festival offers a cemetery tour, movie screenings, performances and exhibitions. Its website breaks the news that “You are going to die. Maybe today. This may come as a surprise to you, or not”.

The Deathfest performances represent a significant milestone for the Brisbane Threshold Choir, which has given limited performances to people who are terminally ill, sometimes over the telephone. Having slowly built its repertoire and membership over several years, it is now at a stage where it welcomes enquiries  from hospitals, hospices or individuals who would like small groups of three or four choir members to sing. 

Co-founder of the 14-member choir, Ann Bermingham says the group is part of a world-wide movement that sings “to bring ease and comfort to those at the thresholds of living and dying”. Most of the group’s songs have an uplifting spiritual quality, reassuring people that they are surrounded by love and encouraging them to feel safe and peaceful.

Ms Bermingham said three years of preparation have gone into the group now offering its services more broadly. In addition to building a repertoire and confidence, members have also had to achieve a level of acceptance of death and dying.

“Being in hospital and challenging situations where there’s a lot of high emotion and people in distress means this is different to other community choirs," she says.

"In a way, for us to perform is the antithesis of what we are about.”

As a result, those attending Saturday’s hour-long performance from 5pm at Christ Church Milton can expect an unorthodox musical event which will celebrate the soothing and comforting power of lullaby, without a focus on individuals on a stage.

“We’re not a conventional performance choir, so we’ll do it a little differently,” says Ms Bermingham.

The choir’s second performance from 11am on Sunday 20 November will support an installation of shrouds by artist Julie Vulcan. The shrouds will be imprinted with oil, having been placed over bodies in a stylised corpse washing ritual, and hanging on lines to mimic laundry.

Ms Bermingham says those wanting to engage or join the choir can send a text to 0401 683 830 or email

The service is offered free of charge but donations are welcomed.

For updates visit the choir’s Facebook page.