I remember it like yesterday. Packed into the high school gym, staring with hundreds of other students at the symphony orchestra sitting silent in the center of the floor. A special assembly, an introduction to classical music by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. The principal stepped to the microphone. We hushed. He paused, let his eyes wander over the young faces whose minds were mostly somewhere else. He spoke, “yesterday, we lost a beloved friend and teacher.” He briefly described how an older English teacher, a fixture at the school for generations, had suddenly passed away. We bowed our heads for a moment of prayer. Then the principal introduced the conductor. Milton Katims, a renowned musician and a wise, compassionate man, dedicated the opening piece to the memory of our lost teacher. He raised his baton and the tribute began. There was a strange quiet in the gym. Strange because a thousand high school kids were speechless. Samuel barber’s “Adagio for Strings” starts softly, with violins, violas, Cellos, and basses blending delicate harmonies around a simple theme. I looked around. All eyes were riveted on the musicians birthing the beautiful sounds. Sounds that crescendoed, louder and louder, to a final climax of heavenly ecstasy. Then, silence. I remember it like yesterday. Stunned. Crying. Blissed by the music of tears. tio stib You might enjoy this video.
It’s a good day when my wife is whistling. Whistling means she’s happy, focused on coloring, and I have time to write.
I’ve learned to play music with words and melodies that spark her mind into activity. One fascinating aspect of her dementia, often reported by others, is that she remembers tunes from years back, but not a word of what I said five minutes ago. Besides her marvelous musical memory, she also demonstrates a talent for mimicry.
When birds sing out on our daily walks, she sings back, chirping and whistling whatever she hears. Although there has yet to be an answer to her calls, she doesn’t stop trying.
I’m fortunate that my wife’s mind still allows her to find delight in life. I’ve been around others with dementia whose confusion and anger made it difficult to care for them. I’ve learned there are buttons I don’t push with her because they will lead to a death spiral of emotions that is difficult to recover from. When such situations happen, as they inevitably do, I tell myself to remember that I’m dealing with a beautiful child who only wants to love and be loved.
And I play music that gets her whistling.