The October 2018 issue of Choral Journal contains a feature article titled “Sing Anything: Robert Cohen and Herschel Garfein’s Alzheimer’s Stories and the Quickening Power of Music” by Kody Wallace. Below is an excerpt of the article, and you can read it in its entirety in the October 2018 issue! Go to acda.org/choraljournal and click “Search Archives.”
Choose October 2018 from the dropdown menu.
This article is the second in a series that highlights themes and programming that will be part of ACDA’s 2019 National Conference in Kansas City. For the first article, see Marvin Latimer’s history of
ACDA (September 2018).
Henry Dryer sits in his wheelchair in the middle of a room alone, hands together, hat backwards, hunched over, eyes down. He doesn’t look up as his daughter comes in to greet him. When she asks if he recognizes her, he can only manage to mumble, “I don’t know.” Henry is one of nearly six million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, and, like so many others, it is slowly robbing him of the building blocks of his identity: his memories.
Henry’s story isn’t really about tragedy or loss, though. We get a clearer sense of Henry’s story as his caretaker slips on a pair of headphones and his transformation begins. First, his eyes light up, his posture straightens in his chair. Then his feet begin to move, and he starts to sing along with the music. Immanuel Kant once referred to music as the “quickening art,” and before long Henry’s transformation is complete. The music has brought him entirely to life.
Henry—once alone, closed off, and silent—can now move, dance, sing, and speak. Music plugs Henry back in to himself, to his past, and the life he had before dementia began cutting up the reels of his memory. “[Music] gives me the feeling of love! Romance! I figure right now the world needs to come into music, singing: ‘You’ve got beautiful music here’… I feel the band of love, of dreams.”
If Henry sounds familiar, you may be one of the nearly three million people who have watched his viral clip from the documentary Alive Inside on YouTube. What may appear on the surface to be isolation and hopelessness is merely the joy of life waiting to be invigorated by music. This ability to awaken those with dementia, and its ability to ease symptoms like aggression and anxiety, formed a large part of Robert Cohen and Herschel Garfein’s inspiration in writing Alzheimer’s Stories, a multi-movement piece for chorus, soloists, and chamber orchestra.
The piece will be performed at the 2019 ACDA National Conference in Kansas City by the Tallahassee Community Chorus under the baton of Owen Sellers Professor of Music at Florida State University, Andre Thomas. Robert Cohen, Herschel Garfein, and Dr. Mark Nathanson will also be holding a panel discussion on the work in a separate session.
Read the rest of this article in the October 2018 issue! The Choral Journal is a membership benefit to ACDA members. View membership levels by clicking here or going to https://acda.org/membership.