In the last couple of weeks, I have lost two of the elder gentlemen I sing with. One had been my “client” for about a year. I put “client” in quotes because in fact, this man was so much more than that and became so much more to me.
In his day, he was a hotshot engineer at the university and, according to his wife – to whom I also became close – and his obituary, he was a brilliant, articulate man who was extremely well-known and respected by colleagues and loved by his students.
I never knew that man because his dementia was already quite progressed when we met. But the man I knew was warm, charming, funny, and delightfully social. I’ll never forget the kindness and, at times, mischief in his eyes when he smiled. And don’t get me started on his beautiful singing voice! I learned from his family that he and his wife loved to sing together throughout the many years of their marriage and when she was able to join me in singing some of his favorite songs with him, you should have seen him light up!
The other gentleman who passed away just this morning was a world-famous photographer who loved it when I asked him about the amazing photographs of blues musicians that covered the walls of his room. Although he couldn’t always remember the names of his subjects – many of whom were quite famous themselves – he enjoyed telling me about how he would never try to pose them or interfere, but would stay out of the way and just “let them do their thing” while he visually recorded treasured moments of musical history.
And he just loved to sing with me! He would often say, “You know all my songs!” Some of his favorites were Fly Me to the Moon, I Only Have Eyes for You and Sentimental Journey. I loved that he sang with real enthusiasm and passion – including hand gestures and facial expressions – despite the fact that he claimed not to be able to sing. (It’s amazing and sad how many people believe that about themselves, just because they may not be able to carry a tune perfectly.)
Often when I sing with dementia patients, people – including some of my “clients” and their families – tell me how much joy I bring to them. Well, believe me, the feeling is mutual. And when I started on this little adventure, I think I sort of expected the joy. But I guess what I didn’t expect was how attached I would become and how much I would miss these new old friends.
So to both of my very dear, departed musical collaborators, I dedicate one of their favorite songs.