During the early days of our courtship and throughout our marriage music has played a significant role in our lives. It has been especially important to me. You might say it has been a form of therapy for me since Kate’s diagnosis. I keep music going almost all the time we are at home. Kate has loved live musical performances but she has only periodically expressed much appreciation for my recorded music. It appears that may be changing.
On the way home from lunch, I played an album by the Susquehanna Chorale. I had heard them at Chautauqua and bought several of their CDs. The I played includes Danny Boy, Loch Lomand, Shenandoah, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, and Deep River, among others. She has always like this CD, and I have played it a good bit in the car. This time she seemed to be especially moved. She expressed how beautiful it was and was a little teary.
When we got home, we sat in our family room listening to music while she worked jigsaw puzzles on her iPad, and I worked on a blog post. Shortly, she put down her iPad and just listened. She started to get teary and talking about how much she enjoyed the music. When that album ended, I played my favorite album of Puccini arias. She continued to listen and enjoy. Her reaction seemed to be in between just getting teary and crying. She was very touched in a way I hadn’t observed before
Yesterday, we had a similar experience. The added surprise this time was that she remained in the family room for a full two hours. It’s been a long time since I have seen her remain in one place for so long. During that time, I was playing some very soft peaceful music. It didn’t engender the teary reaction of the previous day, but she was quite relaxed as she worked on her iPad.
We topped off the day by going to Casa Bella for jazz night. It is always good, and last night was no exception. She is relatively quiet but enjoys the people with whom we sit, and, of course, the music is the highlight. I am hopeful that we will be able to continue attending these musical nights for a good while.
As I begin to see changes in the number of things that Kate enjoys, I am especially encouraged when she continues to appreciate live musical performances. That was again the case last night at Casa Bella. The singers and the program were especially good. The evening got off to a good start when the first vocalist sang one of Puccini’s arias. It was the first time I recall seeing the audience stand up and applaud on the very first song of the evening. In fact, I have only seen an audience stand and applaud on a couple of other occasions. Kate, who right now wouldn’t even remember that we went out last night, loved it. That always makes me happy. The fact that we share the pleasure equally is a bonus.
An hour ago, Kate and I left the latest Live in HD at The Met production, La Boheme. We have attended quite a number of these operas that are broadcast live in movie theaters around the world. While there is nothing like the experience of being at The Met, we find that these live performances on the large screen offer an even better experience of the opera itself.
La Boheme, of course, is an emotional opera. Given the outstanding camera work, it has quite an impact on the theater audience. On and off throughout the performance, Kate reached over and squeezed my hand. As she also does at many live productions, she also expressed a few audible “Wows.” The final death scene is always moving, but I find that I am more affected by such things since I know that Kate is on that same path.
I was just as taken by the opera as Kate, but the added treat for me was getting to see her express genuine enthusiasm. There aren’t many things nowadays that elicit this kind of response. The fact that she continues to enjoy musical productions makes me feel good and reinforces my hope that she will retain her feeling for music a lot longer. It’s been another great day, and my pleasure wasn’t tarnished at all when we left the theater and she asked me the name of the opera we had just seen. She had enjoyed herself even if she couldn’t remember it.
For those who have been active readers of this blog, you will understand how important live performances (theatrical and musical) have been to Kate and me. During the past year, the appeal of movies has declined substantially for Kate. I hate that. For most of our marriage, they have been almost as important as seeing events on stage. I wonder if and when the same will occur for live performances. I feel optimistic that it will be a while, especially after last night.
It was Broadway night at Casa Bella. We shared our usual table with the parents of the woman who currently operates the restaurant and another couple with whom we have sat on several other occasions. It was a terrific social occasion with them, and the program was outstanding. In recognition of Valentine’s Day, the music featured love songs from the past like Irving Berlin’s “Always,” “Moon River,” and “The Twelfth of Never.” Since the audience was made up largely of people in our generation, you know it was a happy crowd.
What makes the difference for me, of course, is how Kate responded. Once again, she loved it. She exclaimed, “Wow” after every piece with enthusiastic applause. We’ve been attending these musical evenings at Casa Bella for almost five years. She has loved every one. We always leave very happy as we did last night. It is wonderful to know that we have three nights like this every month.
Everyday all of us find ourselves making choices to do one thing or another. We can’t do it all. It’s no different when one is caring for a person with dementia (PWD). The only difference is the caregiver always tryies to decide which of two or more alternatives is the best one for the PWD. I’ve had to make one of those decisions today and hit a home run.
This afternoon the UT Opera Theater had an annual student recital. We have attended several of these in the past and enjoyed them immensely. The Live in HD at The Met production today was Tosca. We couldn’t do both; so I decided on Tosca. Although I am sure the recital was good, I believe I made the right decision. We’ve seen quite a few of these operas, and this was one of the best. Kate loved it. When she is really enthusiastic about a performance, she not only applauds but also says, “Wow.” I heard several of those today. I am a little sensitive about this because she is the only one in the audience that expresses anything audibly.
While the opera itself was outstanding, it was even better to know that Kate was so enthusiastic about it. At the last of these operas last spring she wanted to leave after the first act. I don’t remember what opera that was. I do know that was the first one she has not enjoyed. I feared that our opera experiences might be nearing the end. It looks like we have a bit longer. This coming Friday, we are attending a performance of The Barber of Seville by a European opera company that comes to Knoxville periodically. In addition, there are several other Live in HD productions I would like to attend, including La Boheme and Cosi fan Tutte.
Over the fifty-four-and-a-half years of our marriage, Kate and I have attended a wide range of live performances from Willie Nelson to Bette Miller to Billy Joel to Itzhak Perlman and Renee Fleming. Since Kate’s diagnosis seven years ago next week, we have made a special effort to enjoy the performing arts. We’ve also enjoyed movies, but as I have noted before, Kate is less and less able to appreciate them. That has made me wonder how long she would like the various musical performances we attend so often. I still don’t know the answer to that question, but I am optimistic that it will last a while.
We are now attending three musical events a month in addition to periodic events throughout the year. The three regular programs are opera on the first Thursday of the month, jazz on the second Thursday, and Broadway on the third Thursday. Last week it was opera. Tonight it was jazz. Kate thoroughly enjoys each one. Tonight as well as the previous jazz nights, we have known the clarinetist and trumpet player. They are both retired music faculty at UT and are well-known locally. Although she didn’t talk much with the people at our table, Kate also enjoyed being with them. We sat with two couples. One we sit with every time. The other couple was new to us, and we thoroughly enjoyed them. Programs like this give us both a lift. I am optimistic that we will continue to enjoy them in the future.
Kate and I were to attend a program of our music club this evening. Although its members are involved in a wide variety of musical genres, there is a heavy orientation toward classical music that is reflected in our programs. Kate, whose taste in music is more in the direction of popular music and popular classics has never been as taken with the club as I have. For that reason, she hasn’t attended a meeting in over a year. Last year, I left her at home by herself. I haven’t felt comfortable doing that this year. Since the Christmas program is always a choral group that sings a variety of Christmas music much of which is well-known, I thought I might take her to this one. I am the treasurer, and I needed to deliver a couple of checks as well.
Suspecting that Kate would not be excited about going with me, I decided to test the water by telling her of the meeting several times over the past three days. Each time she had forgotten, and each time she groaned. Then I told her that I thought she would like the program and that we would not stay long and come home right after the program ended instead of staying for the reception afterwards. Each time she agreed to go.
Late this afternoon, I mentioned it twice, once at dinner and once again after we got home. Once again she was not happy about it but said she would go. I picked out her clothes and laid them out on her bed. She was happy about that. I left her to get dressed while I wrote out a couple of checks. About ten minutes later, she came out in a night gown. I said, “You’re in your night gown?” She looked at me with great surprise. I reminded her of the meeting. She had completely forgotten. I brought her clothes back to her. Then she said she didn’t want to go and wanted me to go without her. I told her I didn’t feel comfortable leaving her alone. I probably could have coaxed her into going. I didn’t want to do that. I told her we would stay home but we would have to take my checks to someone else to deliver to the correct parties, and that is what we did.
On a number of occasions Kate has not wanted to go somewhere, and I have made the same decision. The difference tonight was that I had a responsibility to deliver the checks and had told several people that we would be there. In addition, we are supposed to let the secretary know if we cannot attend. The assumption is that the RSVP would come earlier than the time we now had before the meeting.
There is really no great loss in our not having gone, but it was a program I believe Kate would have enjoyed. I know that I would have. I also felt that this was likely to be the last time we attended as a couple.
It is also an indicator of Kate’s continuing downward spiral. In the future, I will need to arrange for a sitter the evenings the club meets. That is only four times a year, only two of which remain in this year. At times like these, I try to be thankful for how slowly she has progressed to this point. I never thought when she was diagnosed seven years ago that I would even have considered her going as a possibility. I am both sad and grateful.
We had a good day yesterday. As always, we enjoyed our lunch at the Bluefish Grill. Then we made our way to the Flat Rock Playhouse for “A North Carolina Christmas.” This turned out to be the best part of the day. The performers were all local area musicians. They were quite good. The style of the program reminded me of “A Prairie Home Companion” without the professionalism. We had heard two of the singers in several musicals in Knoxville. It was fun to see and hear them in another context. Kate loved every bit of it. That made my day since the sole reason I had made arrangements to attend was to provide her with something she would enjoy. Several times during the program the audience was invited to join in the singing. Kate sang, and I was pleased that she remembered the words to most of the songs.
That reminded me of our trip home from Memphis last week. As we were driving, I put on some fifties’ music. It had been a while since we had heard most of the music. Kate really liked it. I can’t say that she remembered a lot of the words to the songs, but she did remember key rephrases. It is obvious that music speaks in ways that ordinary conversation does not. That is especially true of music that is both familiar and well-liked.
Over the past few years, Kate has become very sensitive to a lot of the music that plays in restaurants. Almost every place we go, she complains about the choice of music. I wonder if I might have unintentionally influenced her in this direction. I love music and keep it on the car and at home. When she was having her early panic attacks, I started playing the second movement of Brahms’ Violin Concerto, something that I love and find very soothing. (These panic attacks have all been associated with her feeling rushed to get somewhere. I have tried not to push, but I have done so unintentionally a number of times.) She has never commented specifically, but it appears to me that when I play this in the car after her panic attack (and don’t talk), she calms down more quickly
That led me to create two playlists, each with very soft, gentle music. One is almost entirely classical. The other all popular music. I often play these while we are in the car. Again, she never says anything, but they seem to be soothing for both of us.
I would never say that our attendance at so many musical events has lessened the progression of her AD, but it has served both of us well. In my own case, I have found it to be an important and enjoyable therapy.
On the way home, we stopped for dinner at a popular restaurant east of Knoxville. As we walked up to the door, we noticed a man who looked very much like Santa sitting on a bench. Then I recognized him as a former client of mine. He had a stroke a couple of years ago and was unable to continue in his old position; so he retired. During the Christmas season, he enjoys playing Santa. We visited with him for about fifteen minutes or so while waiting for a table. I hadn’t seen him in quite a while and enjoyed hearing what he is up to. On top of that we had a terrific meal. It had been another good day.
Although we have had a lot of things to take care of before our trip to Memphis today, we both enjoyed seeing the Sound of Music last night. I suspect the audience knew more of the music from this musical than any other musical. I know that is the case for us. It made for a good holiday treat. It was also a good night socially. As usual in Knoxville, we saw a number of people we know. One of those was Kate’s physician, Dr. Reynold’s.
We also had a good experience at dinner. Kate had the chicken parmigiana. I had a spinach salad with grilled chicken a poached pears. We also spoke to a couple of people we know. I believe this aspect of small-city life has been good for us because of all the social connections.
The only noteworthy thing that happened last night was a new sign of Kate’s insecurity. When we arrived at the Bijou Theater, we both decided to make stop by the restroom before the performance. I walked her to the ladies room. I told her I was going to the men’s room and to wait for me right where I was leaving her if I wasn’t back when she was through. She quickly and sternly said, “Wait right here until I come out.” I did. To me, this is not only an indication of insecurity but recognition (at least partial) of her condition.
Kate was enthusiastic about the musical. I was especially glad to see her continued interest in live performances since she doesn’t enjoy movies as much anymore.
Yesterday I reported on our full but very good day. That was just before we were leaving for our monthly visit to Casa Bella for Broadway Night. We have enjoyed all of their musical evening dinners; so I was optimistic that we were in for a good evening. I was right. Once again, we sat with the Jensons. We have really enjoyed getting to know them. They are in their nineties and doing very well. She is the daughter of the woman who started the restaurant almost fifty years ago. When he married into the family, he became a partner in the restaurant. They worked together until they turned the restaurant over to their daughter and her husband. We were joined by another couple that usually sit at another table. It was also getting to know them a little better.
Apart from that we saw a neighbor whom I see frequently on my morning walk. I had mentioned some time ago that Casa Bella had the Thursday night musical events. This was her second time their with two of her friends. In addition, I saw a member of the Sunday school class I used to teach. These are the kind of connections that become everyday events in a city like Knoxville. I believe this has made our lives with AD just a little bit better than it might have been otherwise. The best part is that both Kate and I enjoy these social encounters. They aren’t long or involved and do not involve any great obligations that we would be unable to meet. They just become bright spots in our day.
Of course, the focus of the whole evening is on the musical program itself. We were familiar with all three of last night’s musicians. That also adds a measure of comfort for us. The female vocalist has a master’s in voice from UT. She is not only a fastastic singer but a great actress. She brought the house down when she sang her last number, “Habanera” from Carmen. She slinks seductively among the audience stopping by a number of the men in the audience. Everybody gets a kick out of this. Her finance is a gifted pianist from Spain where he has received wide recognition. The male singer is someone who is very active in local theater but earns his living in the computer industry. All told, it was a beautiful end to what had been a very nice day.