RD sat quietly in front of the piano. His wife placed a sheet of paper in front of him. It was a list of Ragtime and Blues song titles. RD’s frail hands rested in a 1-3-5 position, and what happened next is unbelievable. RD played through his repertoire, and he colored each piece, chord by chord, with such brilliance and variation. Eyes closed, he sang along with prosody and enthusiasm. He played for an hour straight. No sheet music. Just the list of songs.
RD has primary progressive aphasia (PPA). He lacks essential speech-producing mechanisms and is unable to convey emotion. He shows signs of memory loss, since PPA is an early form of dementia. He can’t remember things that happened a day ago, but just by looking at a list of songs, he can play them on the piano, exhibiting impeccable motor memory skills. It’s not only that. What’s going on with his speech? He can barely produce words. Just hours before, when asked to name words starting with the letter “A,” his only response was, “ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog.” In the context of music, his words are clear. He expresses them unequivocally, and with so much emotion. It the rhythmic qualities of music that allow RD to sing each word of the song? Where the hell did this enthusiasm come from?
I was truly and profoundly impressed. I was also confused. RD is slowly losing his cognitive and language abilities. Okay…yeah…he has PPA, so that makes sense. But, playing music requires really complex cognition, so he would’ve lost his musical abilities. Right? In my mind, I was like DUDE WHAT’S GOING ON WITH YOUR BRAIN?!?!?!?!
I never figured it out. I told myself to stop thinking about it, because unlike most patients w/PPA, RD is lucky that he can express himself, even if it’s through music. I was sold at the time, but now, two years later, his Tom Cat Blues are still playing in my mind.
On Sunday evening I was 6 hours into my drive to Boston. I usually don’t pay attention to the exit signs unless my annoying British travel companion, gps-lady, tells me that I’m 2 miles away from my exit. The random time that I did choose to pay attention, however, I saw a very familiar place — South Bridge. Wow, that sounds oddly familiar. Is life really trying to rub this in my face?
59 South Bridge Street, Edinburgh UK. Unit 4 Room 1. A few weeks ago South Bridge was my new home. The mark of a new chapter of my life. I would grab the yellow man on google maps and walk it around my future neighborhood. This is the place where I could have met my first 3 friends in the UK, and where, for the first time, I would have lived a relatively normal life as a student. Now, South Bridge is part of a whole different journey…driving a car packed with all of my possessions and going to a city where I don’t have a home..or a job.
If somebody’s got soul, you gotta make a move
Nothing can beat Donizetti’s bel canto.
And the hardest part
Was letting go, not taking part
Was the hardest part
And the strangest thing
Was waiting for that bell to ring
It was the strangest start
I could feel it go down
Bittersweet, I could taste in my mouth
Silver lining the cloud
Oh and I
I wish that I could work it out
I really like this version of “The Hardest Part”. I’ve always wanted to learn it on the piano, but of course I haven’t had any time for it. I realized that the hours I could have spent learning this, I spent instead trying to salvage my social life in DC. Was it worth it? I don’t know. But I do know that this song sums up my past semester pretty well.
Hot Air Balloon, New Mexico
Photo: Bruce Dale
As colorful as a butterfly wing, this balloon at the Albuguerque International Balloon Fiesta provides a shimmering backdrop for silhouetted visitors. Five hundred balloons from 39 states and 17 countries thrilled visitors at the 2010 festival.
I still remember standing on my roof at 6am every October, looking out at a sky filled with hot air balloons. I would always look for my favorite hot air balloon, what I called the “rubber ducky.” And it was indeed a rubber duck-shaped balloon.
I’m so glad I lived here for 4 years, but it’s such a shame that I haven’t gone back.
It Dont Mean a Thing - Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington
When it’s 1am and ennuie is really kicking in while I study, this is just what I need as a pick-me-up. Seriously.
Presaging the actual swing era by a few years, and not even accepted as a typical “jazz” standard when it was written in the 1930s, it combines two of the most talented artists in jazz history. PERFORMING TOGETHER? In this LIVE recording?! Scatting together? Ah just what I need.
So, to my limited and practically nonexistent tumblr readers, please take 7 minutes of your precious time and listen to this.