THE BLOG
05/16/2013 04:40 pm ET Updated Jul 17, 2013

Huffington This Week: Final Songs and Free Spirits

In this week's issue, Jaweed Kaleem looks at threshold choirs, a growing movement using a capella song to soothe the dying.

"Words are good for many things, but they don't seem sufficient when it comes to death," says Ellen Synakowski, a former academic journal editor and member of a choir in Washington, D.C. "The feelings are just too deeply intense and words are too inadequate. But music can reach those places where words alone can't go."

Jaweed traces the threshold choir movement to Northern California, where 13 years ago people -- mostly women, mostly older than 50 -- started coming together and visiting hospitals, hospices and private homes, by request. Selecting songs based on what a patient or the patient's family wants, they approach the bedside and sing from memory -- from upbeat, jaunty songs like "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" to original compositions, which are most common.

Synakowski's choir practices for 90 minutes each week at a D.C. massage school and posts flyers in local coffee shops seeking people who can "communicate kindness" with their voices. At a recent rehearsal, they could be heard singing, in preparation for some future bedside performance: "It's alright, you can go/ Your memories are safe with us/ It's alright, you can go/ Your memories are safe with us."

Elsewhere in the issue, Radley Balko puts the spotlight on Bisbee, Arizona, a town of 5,500 people about 10 miles from the Mexican border, and at the center of the state's debate over gay marriage. As Radley delves into the politics and introduces us to local officials and residents on both sides of the issue, he also shows us around Bisbee in all its eclectic, free-spirited glory: the art festivals and theaters, the annual parade of "art cars" colorfully decorated by locals, and characters like Brian "Legz" Tagalog, a tattoo artist who was born with arms and works entirely with his feet. As Gretchen Baer, a Bisbee artist and political activist put it, "Arizonans like to think of themselves as mavericks. We're individualists. We do our own thing, forge our own way."

Finally, as part of our ongoing coverage of stress, we're featuring the results of HuffPost's stress survey, shining a light on causes ranging from finances and relationships to work and sleep deprivation.

This story appears in Issue 49 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store, available Friday, May 17.