I Believe in the Staying Power of Music
In 1970, when I moved to Dallas, I met a woman named Cleo. She had been a prominent Dallas piano teacher, and we worked together with the Dallas Museum of Art’s Sunday Concert Series. Cleo was in charge of securing performers for the series. Not too many years later, Cleo was lovingly relieved of her responsibilities. She had begun to double-book concerts, and mixups were frequent. Cleo had Alzheimer’s, a disease just then becoming better known by the general public.
Many years later, I went Christmas caroling with a church group to a nursing home. Our group performed its prescribed 15 minutes of music, and we neared the end of our traditional carols. Everyone was invited to sing along. Those elderly residents who were able, stood and moved forward to form a circle with us, holding hands. Nurse attendants pushed others in wheelchairs to the center of the room. We were a motley group, ranging from bouncy teenaged visitors, to residents who’d lived over a century.
At best, the sing-along would have received mixed reviews. Some residents sat in wheelchairs and stared into space, seemingly oblivious to the singing. Others sang a few lines; still others hummed, but not in any common rhythm or harmony. A few actually knew all the carols. They carried the group. But it was not exactly the warm, uplifting experience I’d anticipated, or so I first thought.
The last carol was “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” The chorus came, and I was startled by someone behind me who suddenly blurted out, in a completely foreign key, and at the top of her lungs, “O COME, LET US ADORE HIM…” Let’s just say the singer got everyone’s attention.
I turned to see who it was – it was Cleo. Cleo didn’t recognize me, or anyone else, as far as I could tell. She was being guided every step she took by an attendant. But, by God, she knew this carol, and she was radiant. She was making a joyful noise. The power of music still sparked a mighty response in her. What I witnessed was indeed an uplifting and humbling experience.
I think of Cleo whenever I hear this carol or sing these lines, and they give me a Christmas gift every year. When all else is gone, I hope that I too will be blessed with the staying power of music.