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‘Alzheimer’s Stories’ by Robert S. Cohen

Composition takes inspiration from those sharing their experiences with Alzheimer’s disease.
Featured Image: Robert S. Cohen takes a bow with others following a group performance at Carnegie Hall.
Robert S. Cohen takes a bow with others following a group performance at Carnegie Hall.

Please describe Alzheimer’s Stories and how it came to be! 

Robert S. Cohen
Robert S. Cohen

In 2008, a member of the Susquehanna Valley Chorale, who asked to remain anonymous, made a donation to help fund the commissioning of a musical work on the subject of Alzheimer’s disease to honor his parents, who had both died after living with Alzheimer’s. In collaboration with 2012 Grammy Award winning opera librettist Herschel Garfein (Elmer Gantry), a blog was set up on the choir’s website to record stories by chorus members and the local community describing experiences with relatives and friends who had Alzheimer’s disease. A selected group of those stories became the basis for the work, Alzheimer’s Stories, for soloists, chorus, and large ensemble. It has been performed over 50 times in the United States and Europe, including twice at Carnegie Hall.

Who initially inspired you to grapple with dementia? 

The death of my stepmother from Alzheimer’s disease and the individual whose death from it led to its commission.

How has working on dementia-related art changed you?

Having gone through the diagnosis and death of my stepmother and the subsequent death of my father from the stress of losing her to this terrible disease, I wasn’t expecting to write a piece on that subject. It has, however, become my signature work—and the work for which I am asked to frequently lecture on its creation.

How has Alzheimer’s Stories been received? 

It has had a profound effect on both the performers and audience, who often say that the piece has changed their view of the disease and perception of how music can help those living with Alzheimer’s disease.

This work is dedicated to: The commissioning choir and funders.

Find out more information about Robert Cohen on his website,Facebook page, or via email (bobcohenmusic@gmail.com).

What is a Spotlight?

The Dementia Arts Spotlight promotes visual and performing artists who are grappling with dementia through original work or innovative arts programs. The Spotlight—in a Q&A format where artists describe the details and significance of their work or program—connects each artist to the Dementia Spring community. Find examples of prior Dementia Arts Spotlights here. Know of an artist whose work should be Spotlighted? Send them this link!

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