Retroladytyping …

“Where words leave, music begins”


“Where words leave, music begins … “  Heinrich Heine in the late 1700s

music bird

I spend some of my spare time, under the auspices of the Alzheimer’s Society,  befriending some of those who are living with dementia and coping with hospital admission simultaneously – either is difficult; together …I can only imagine the confusion, uncertainty and fear which can be experienced by those who had formerly been articulate, capable and confident people.

Recently I met, in hospital,  a lovely elderly, and very beautiful, lady who, as part of her dementia was coping with aphasia, the effects of which meant she struggled to compose the random thoughts in her brain into coherent communication.  However, I had been told that this lady had been an opera singer and loved singing still.  My singing ability is more enthusiastic than competent, so I was not sure how our meeting would progress.  I love talking with people, but this was different.  I didn’t want to spend the time talking ‘at’ her.  That would be pointless.  The idea was to engage her in whatever way was possible.  I had met aphasic children in an earlier role, so I decided to give it a go …

On entering the ward, I saw the lady looking very dignified, with the most beautiful white hair, but also looking very confused and worried.   I introduced myself, smiled and waited, talking about such mundane things as the weather, without much response … then I mentioned that I had heard she loved singing …

She flung her arms wide and sang “Yes,  how wonderful!”  I talked for a while about my limited knowledge of singing and classical music; then she said “Let’s sing!”  As I said:  enthusiastic, not competent, but with nothing to lose but my dignity, I sang with her – no recognisable song, just la la las, accompanied by extravagant operatic-type arm gestures from both of us.  My side of this duet was far from tuneful, but this lovely patient lady took it upon herself to attempt to teach me to sing in tune, or at least in a way which would harmonise with her.   She was patient, although she did giggle deliciously when I made strangled attempts to sing at the same pitch as her.   Eventually we had some sort of call and response duet going on in the corner of a hospital ward:  our own little musical world.

I gradually became aware that we were being watched.  Other patients, and some staff, were looking.  Slightly embarrassed, I let my voice tail off.  However, my wonderful, patient singing teacher was having none of it.  She sang “No-o-o, you must sing …”, so I did.   We were communicating – ok, in a slightly unusual way and it certainly got us noticed.  However, my new friend was not in the slightest bit embarrassed.  She was a singer; to her, I was also a singer and that was all that mattered.  She was happy.  I was happy, although slightly more self-conscious than her.  We had made a connection.  Speech could not achieve this.  Music did.

I continued to see this lady for several weeks and, each time, we sang to, and with, each other.  One day, just before Christmas, I was greeted in the Ward corridor by my lovely friend, wearing a festive red coat, ready to go home.  She sang from one end of the corridor to me at the other end of the corridor with no inhibitions at all.  When we reached each other, she opened her arms wide for a hug and told me she was going home at last.  I was pleased to know that, but sad that I would probably not see her again.

I hope she is happily singing away with those who are taking care of her.  I hope they understand.  I hope they are not embarrassed at singing with her wherever they are – in the street, in the supermarket, wherever …  I hope she is teaching them as she taught me.

As I said goodbye for the final time, she took both my hands, gave me a huge hug and kiss on the cheek and said “Thank you for the music.”

I can’t add anything more.