I’ve posted here before about my dad, who was central in helping me find my way to my life as a musician. Today, I want to introduce you to my mother and grandmother, who also fill their lives with music and showed me how great (and natural) that could be.
When I was little, I would go to LA for a few weeks every summer to visit my grandparents. I enjoyed this a lot (though I bet my parents enjoyed it even more) – they had three dogs and a pool, and my grandfather would occasionally take me to work with him at Paramount – he was an assistant director, and had worked on some pretty big movies (including The Ten Commandments and Vertigo – you can read his IMDB list here).
My grandmother always had classical music on in the house – the radio played KUSC every morning, and she had hundreds of records – she would make me cassettes of pieces she liked. She also supervised my piano practicing, which as you can see, was a challenge – no one in this picture looks too pleased, including the bust of Bach on the piano!
In the summer of 1977, Grandma and I flew back to New York after my annual visit. As we got close to the city, we noticed there was no light on the ground. The pilot announced that there had been a blackout (now legendary in the city’s history), and that we would be going to Boston instead. This made me very concerned – I was wearing my Yankees jacket, and the Red Sox were our archenemies. Of course, no one bothered us – as you can see in the above picture, you don’t mess with my Grandma.
Recently, my mom and I went to visit Grandma, who is 96 and bedridden. She is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s, and can’t speak more than a few words, but seemed very happy to see us, and looked at us very intently while we spoke to her. Since we couldn’t have the kinds of conversations we used to, I also wanted to play for her, so I obtained a cello from another musical family, Benning Violins on Ventura Boulevard, a three generation family business for over 60 years. Laura Benning was kind enough to give me the first instrument her mother had ever made, which seemed especially fitting – my thanks to her for her generosity and thoughtfulness.
I played Bach for Grandma for quite a while, stopping every few minutes to ask her if she liked it, and if she wanted to hear more – she always nodded and said yes. I have no idea what she was thinking, but I hope it helped her reconnect with music she loved and maybe brought back memories of us when I was a kid – it certainly did for me.
If you play an instrument, and have a relative (or friend, or a complete stranger for that matter) suffering from dementia, consider playing for them. Live music is a gift for everyone, of course, but for those whose other avenues of communication have become more limited, you’d be giving them something especially precious, and I think they deserve it even more than the rest of us.
Till next time,