There’s something about music that triggers powerful memories, even when those memories are usually out of reach.
Five years ago, Paul Harvey of Sussex, England, was diagnosed with dementia. Though he has trouble remembering most things, one thing he’s never truly forgotten is his passion for music.
Paul was a composer and music teacher all his life. One year ago, his son, Nick Harvey, who is also a musician, shared a video of Paul on Twitter that went seriously viral.
In it, Nick showed off an “old party trick” his dad used to perform at social gatherings. Someone gives him just four notes, and he will sit down at his piano and make a whole song from them.
Even at age 80 and battling advancing dementia, Paul was able to produce a lovely, haunting melody using just the notes Nick gave him: F natural, A, D, and B natural.
Dad’s ability to improvise and compose beautiful melodies on the fly has always amazed me.— Nick Harvey (@mrnickharvey) September 17, 2020
Tonight, I gave him four random notes as a starting point.
Although his dementia is getting worse, moments like this bring him back to me. pic.twitter.com/dBInVCTmfF
Days later, a single of Paul’s song “Four Notes” aired on Radio 4’s Broadcasting House in honor of World Alzheimer’s Day. Listeners loved the melody (and Paul’s story!) so much that they petitioned BBC for a live performance.
A year later, BBC Philharmonic answered their request when they asked Paul to perform his incredible song with them! The 81-year-old spent an entire afternoon with the orchestra, conducting both “Four Notes” and another one of his songs called “Where’s the Sunshine.”
“It was magical, it was very, very special to work with such wonderful musicians,” Paul said later. “It made me feel alive, I couldn’t believe that an orchestra was playing my music and I was standing in front of it conducting them. I hadn’t conducted in such a long time before this, it was a real thrill.”
As with the original recording, all proceeds from the performance will benefit the Alzheimer’s Society and Music for Dementia.
Nick and his two brothers were on site to witness their father’s debut at the BBC Philharmonic. Nick even said his father has “come alive again” ever since that first viral video revived his love of music.
“It moved dad and me and my two brothers beyond compare.” he said. “It was a dream come true for Dad to conduct and play with an orchestra of that calibre as an 81-year-old. It’s what dreams are made of.”
While his dad’s short-term memory is terrible, Nick hopes he will remember this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He also hopes their work with Music for Dementia inspires others to use music to reach their own loved ones who suffer from memory and cognition problems.
“From my experience with dad, the right piece of music at the right time can be absolutely incredible,” he explained. “You don’t have to be a talented musician to enjoy it though. Just listening to music, it starts to trigger memories of the past and gives people that connection.”
Nick says “Four Notes” has brought his father back to life! It’s hard to believe that a quick Twitter video can have the power to change so much.
Watch Paul play piano and conduct the BBC Philharmonic in the video below, and don’t forget to share this heartwarming story.
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