Five years ago, her husband Jay Mitchell, a devoted Bainbridge Island Rotarian, who contributed greatly to the community in his day, was on death’s door. “As he was dying in 2017, I learned about a choir on the island – The Agate Pass Threshold Choir – that sang at people’s bedsides,” Price-Mitchell recalls.
She soon connected with the chorus and “they sang twice for Jay during the last days of his life and it was one of the most beautiful, healing experiences for him and our family. I was so touched by this experience that a year later I joined the choir, led by Islander Judy Friesem.”
The local chapter of Threshold https://thresholdchoir.org/AgatePass), which is part of a larger national non-profit organization that is made up of a network of choirs, got under way about eight years ago under Friesem’s direction.
“I wanted to find a way to share the richness I get from my work as a therapeutic musician (which is solo work), with others,” says Friesem, who started the local chapter in 2015. “My work helps me live with gratitude, for I most often find myself with people living each moment as fully as they can, surrounded by love.”
The music is mostly written by national and international Threshold members, says Price-Mitchell, and is all recorded and sung in three-part harmony.
Typically, three or four Agate singers – there are 14 members currently in the group – visit someone’s home and “generate beautiful calming harmonies,” Price-Mitchell says. “It’s incredible how it (the singing) effects families and patients. You actually see (a dying person’s) breathing begin to calm.”
Friesem plays the harp and she sometimes brings the instrument with her during the group’s recitals. “She can pick up on the pain a patient might be going through,” Price-Mitchell says, with a voice full of admiration. “She (we) never goes in (to a home) with a set list of songs. She (we) go in and analyze the situation.”
“There is something indescribable that happens when an offering of music is freely received,” explains Friesem. “We tap into that liminal space where (we’re) all connected and the edges of daily life blur. Connecting through sound and the simple blend of our voices is very intimate—between ourselves and the listeners as well as among us as singers… I feel like I’ve been given a tremendous gift.”
“There are a lot of ways to communicate in those last days of life,” adds Price-Mitchell, herself a highly respected Developmental Psychologist, Researcher, Author, Speaker, Educator and Coach with more than 3 million followers on her web site: https://www.rootsofaction.com. “Music reaches people’s brains more than any words can.”
She cites an example of two older women who were listening to Threshold at a previous event at the Wyatt House in Downtown Winslow. They “had dementia (but) they sang with us in the moment,” remembering the words and harmony to Dona Nobis Pacem (Peace Be With You!). “A lot of older people have been singers and they start humming along,” says Price-Mitchell.
The local choir is a partner with Island Volunteer Caregivers, and many people find out about them through IVCs “Bedside Singing Program” (https://www.ivcbainbridge.org/our-programs), aimed at providing singers to loved ones bedbound in their homes.
“This is our main mission,” Price-Mitchell reiterates. “We are often able to gather singers quite quickly when needed… Our goal is to bring ease and comfort to those at the thresholds of living and dying (by providing) a calm and focused presence at the bedside, with gentle voices, simple songs, and sincere kindness.” The Agate Pass choir sings regularly for people at Madrona, the Wyatt House, and Fieldstone Memory Care, as well as memorial services and community events, such as a fundraiser a few months back for Turkish and Syrian earthquake victims at Bethany Church.
Twice a year, the group also presents something they call a “Sound Bath” at the Dayaalu Center (Yoga and Healthy Living Studio) on Wyatt Way. During the ritual, participants are sitting on yoga mats and singing selected songs. “It’s almost like meditation,” Price-Mitchell says.
The Agate Pass singers typically perform about three or four times a month at various facilities, and the group practices weekly, drawing from the hundreds of songs available through the national Threshold organization. “We generally tap into about 40 songs,” Price-Mitchell says. “We know them by heart and know the harmonies.”
The national organization – a 501c3 – provides the music, plus support and training for directors like Friesem. It is also a place where appreciative families can make a donation to Agate Pass, if they wish to do so. The choir does not charge for its services.
“Even though we’re good singers,” adds Price-Mitchell, “we’re not a performance choir. We’re all about (conveying) kindness, healing and compassion.”
To listen to the choir check out the following links:
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