Music Hath Charms

Late Wednesday afternoon.  Kyle will be here within the hour.  We are nearing the end of Medicare supported visits.  Had a brief discussion last time about continuing his therapy on my dime.  I don’t know if that is practical.  Carol has made such good progress under his care, but it is also possible we are nearing the ceiling of what he can accomplish.

The disease will win out in the end.  The only question is where or when that end is.

I am not feeling perfectly well today.  Even a restorative nap has not fully recharged my battery.

I will soldier on as I have always done.  I have experienced very few debilitating illnesses that prevented me from going about my business.  I had the chicken pox as a young adult and that kept me home from my new teaching job for about a week.  I have spent one night in the hospital when two coronary stents were inserted.  There were probably a few other occasions that do not come to mind but I have been remarkably durable, retiring after thirty-five years with most of my sick leave unused.

All of this is said in the context of my now self-defined identity of caregiver.  More than at any other point in my life I cannot now afford to be sick to the point of becoming unable to function.

Kyle has just arrived.  His arrival times are always approximate.

Saturday night.  I have been too tired the past few days to attend to this writing.  I think I might be dealing with a bug.

I’ve got my Simon and Garfunkel Pandora station streaming in my ear buds.

That is because a little while ago I played the CD of the duo’s concert in Central Park.

I need to make two points about my choice to play this music.

The first is general concerning music, the second is particular to that concert.

Several days ago, as we were having breakfast, for some reason I took note of the small Sony radio sitting on the butcher block top of the wheeled cabinet that serves as an island in our kitchen.  That radio has been there literally for years although we did not turn it on that often, probably mostly to listen to the Prairie Home Companion while eating Saturday evening dinner.

But on this morning, I turned it on and fussed with the tuner until I found the classical music station from Interlochen.  I listen to that station on my car radio, but for whatever reason not in the house.

I don’t know what motivated me to turn it on that morning.  I will say I am embarrassed I did not think to do so sooner.  I knew, or at least was aware in a dim kind of way, that music is reported to  penetrate the fog of dementia.  In fact, one aide some time ago asked if she could play music, and if so, what did Carol like.  I suggested blues, particularly of the Delta variety, and dug out a couple of CDs.  I had plugged in an old boom box on the end table next to the sofa so I could play audio books for Carol.  She listened with some interest to her favorite book, To Kill A Mockingbird, but others did not keep her interest.

We tried a blues CD.  Carol did not listen, and we abandoned that idea.

However, her response to the classical music on the radio was positive.  I saw her nodding her head to it, and changing her facial expression to reflect changes in the music.  Then, I remembered her father loved classical music.  He had a large, old fashioned stereo system set up in the dining room, and I was aware that he and Carol’s mother attended concerts at Interloochen.

I don’t know for a fact, but it is likely he played classical music on that stereo with some regularity.  What I do know is that music was prominent in Carol’s family.  Her mother played the organ for her church for fifty years, Carol’s sister plays violin for that same church, and others in the family play.  Carol herself had years of piano instruction.

So it is not surprising that she responded to the somewhat tinny music coming from that little Sony radio.

I’ve been turning it on every morning since.  And when we move into the living room, I tune to the same station on the boom box, and let it play all day.

Which takes us a step away from Simon and Garfunkel.  Let’s get back to them and their famous outdoor concert.

At dinner time today, the programming on the radio turned to a nightly show that features a lot of analytical talk about the music being offered.   Wanting to continue listening to music without the talk, I sorted through a pile of CDs next to the television.

Where I found the Simon and Garfunkel CD.

And now the particular reason for pulling it out of the stack instead of something classical like a Bach compilation that was also in the pile.

Carol had attended that concert.

That was in 1981 before she entered my life.

She often spoke of the experience, how far from the stage she and her companion was that they could not really see much, and how the music filled the park.

I asked if she would like to hear it.

“Yes,” she said.

And she listened with head nods, foot wagging,  smiles, and at least one laugh at one of the lyrics.

So, yes, music apparently does penetrate, does, perhaps, wake up some memories.

And we will continue to listen.

Past midnight of Memorial Day, the end of seventy-two hours of almost complete isolation, broken by one telephone call I initiated, one greeting to the owner and clerk at the market on my Sunday morning trip to pick up the Times and Carol’s blueberry muffin, and two brief conversations with neighbor Brad.  The first occurred in the street after I had picked up the mail and then strolled over to him where he was weed whacking some brush.  I wanted to follow up on the suggestion I  had offered concerning his getting in touch with our piano tuner to service  the used instrument they had just obtained at a fund raiser. The second, brief, conversation with him during the weekend was occasioned by his stopping by with some food from a holiday barbecue at their church attended by a number of members of the historical society who sent their regards to me and Carol, a most welcome and unexpected visit.  Even the telemarketers seem to have taken the weekend off.  I initiated the one  telephone call, phoning that same tuner to see if he could do our piano after Brad’s.  He called a couple of days later to say he would.

These arrangements concerning piano tuning lead naturally back to the reintroduction of music into our household.  I now have the radios, one in the kitchen, the other in the living room, tuned to the Interlochen classical music station from morning to night.

I cannot be sure how consistently Carol listens, but sometimes it seems her head or her hand moves to the rhythms.  In any event, her mood has been more even keeled, and I attribute, however tentatively, that effect to the constant music.

The choice of classical music was a natural for me although, in truth, I like many genres.  At the moment, KNCX a jazz station from Seattle is streaming into my ear buds.  I listen to folk, and to classic rock as well.

But classical music, I believe, is a better choice for Carol in her present condition.  True, she used to love Motown and blues, as well as sharing my interests.  However, without any research into the question, I am hypothesizing that the more complicated structure of classical music engages her brain more fully.    That, plus the possibility of the music reawakening the auditory memories of the music she heard in her house growing up.

It would be foolish  to suggest that Carol’s listening to music can stay the progress of her disease.  In spite of my generally optimistic attitude, I long ago gave up on the idea that anything less than divine intervention, which I confess is more than a little unlikely, would stop that progress.

All that can be done through medicine is try to slow the inevitable deterioration, and as with Kyle’s introduction of the tilt chair, improve the quality of our lives.

I don’t know if the music now playing pretty much all day every day in our house will have the salutary effect of stimulating brain activity, and thus slow down that deterioration.

But it certainly seems to have a positive impact on her mood.

And mine as well, as all my life I have listened to music whenever possible.

As William Congreve  opined centuries ago, “Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast.”

I don’t know about the “savage breast”–often misquoted as “savage beast”–but its ability to charm in a variety of ways is palpable, a wonderful gift I will make  a permanent resident of our household through these difficult times.

There is more to the relevance to our situation of the story of our piano and piano tuner.  Will explore that in the next post.





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