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Published on April 03, 2017

Love and music are the last things to goLove and music are the last things to go

Robert S. Cohen

There are several very poignant lines in a musical production about Alzheimer’s disease that the Falmouth Chorale Chamber Singers will present in a concert in June.

“Keep faith. They sense what they cannot show. Love and music are the last things to go. Sing anything. Sing.”

I was invited to a recent rehearsal in preparation for the concert, which will take place on June 4 at First Congregational Church on Main Street in Falmouth. The title of the program is “Alzheimer’s Project” based on the musical work, “Alzheimer’s Stories.”

I can still hear the music in my mind. Each note builds into a harmony that accentuates the importance of the lines in the story and brings emotions to the surface that are sometimes sad, sometimes hopeful and at times, humorous.

John Yankee, artistic director of the Falmouth Chorale, decided this was a project he wanted to bring to Cape Cod. He had met the composer of “Alzheimer’s Stories,” Robert S. Cohen, in 2009 at a conference in Philadelphia shortly before the premier concert.

“Gaining control of emotional responses to the work is a major challenge to our singers,” said Yankee. “Everyone needs to work through any personal issues and get into the music itself as soon as possible, so that we can deliver the work to our audience with control and artistry. I understand this is no easy task, and admire them for taking on the challenge.”

Four of the 14 singers in the group have been personally touched by Alzheimer’s and it can bring emotions to the surface when they sing the compositions.

“It’s Hard To Sing About”

Megan Anthony of Yarmouth said her grandmother died of the disease 15 years ago. With each visit to see her, she could see the changes. “It’s hard to sing about,” she said.

“I lost my wife of 60 years,” said Ed Celette of Falmouth. He was her caregiver at home and she died four years ago. “Music keeps me going.”

Tom Gregg, MD, a former orthopedic surgeon at Falmouth Hospital, talked about his mother-in-law who had been living in Arizona in a senior community when she was diagnosed. Once she was unable to manage, Dr. Gregg and his wife, Virginia, brought her to Falmouth and she was eventually admitted to JML Care Center.

“My wife gets the saint award,” said Dr. Gregg. “She went to JML every day for nine years to feed her mother lunch.”

Hannah Mark’s grandmother passed away in 2010.

“It was slow to progress, initially, but then she had a sudden drop-off. We would sing with her when we visited, she liked the music from the 1940s,” said Mark, who lives in Woods Hole.

“Getting by the emotional piece of this is one of our challenges,” said Yankee. “It is getting down to the bare bones as soon as possible so we have better control.”

The Origin of “Alzheimer’s Stories”

A member of the Susquehanna Valley Chorale of Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, made a donation to the chorale in 2007 to help fund the commissioning of a musical work about Alzheimer’s disease to honor his parents who had both died of the disease.

For the next year, members of the chorale and residents in the community submitted stories to a blog describing their experiences with friends and family who had Alzheimer’s.

Herschel Garfein, a librettist and 2012 Grammy winner, and Robert S. Cohen created the musical work together. It premiered on October 9, 2009 at the Weiss Center for the Performing Arts in Lewisburg.

Three movements within “Alzheimer’s Stories” tell the progression of the disease.

  • The Numbers: The discovery of the disease by Alois Alzheimer, MD, in 1901, the number of people who have the ailment, future projections and conversations between Dr. Alzheimer and his first patient, August Deter.
  • The Stories: Soloists portray individuals affected by the disease with humor, some sadness and poignancy.
  • For the Caregivers: The challenge for the creators of the musical work was how to end it with some hope. A chorus member recalled a patient in a nursing home who asked them to sing. They asked what song and the patient responded, “sing anything.” That became the root of the and focus of the last movement.

In addition to the centerpiece of the Alzheimer’s project, the Falmouth Chamber Chorale will do a medley of songs during the 20-minute opening that will highlight love and music. It will include songs from the 1940s such as “Gonna Take a Sentimental Journey.”

“The Alzheimer’s piece is not all tragedy; there will be humor,” said Yankee. “You have to be able to laugh at life, too.”

The Falmouth Chorale Chamber Singers’ concert on June 4, 2017 will be held at 4 p.m. at the First Congregational Church, 68 Main Street, Falmouth. Cohen will be in attendance to talk about the process of creating this musical work.

Future concerts are scheduled for September 24 and October 1 at venues to be determined.

More information is available on the Falmouth Chorale Chamber Singers website, or by calling 774-392-2383.

[Featured Image: John Yankee’s photo by Dorene Sykes Photography, as seen on FalmouthChorale.org]