Alzheimer’s Stories

For soloists, chorus & large ensemble. A commission from the Susquehanna Valley Chorale with a libretto by Herschel Garfein based on recollections of chorus members and friends with relatives who’ve had the dreaded disease. It was premiered October 9, 2009 at the Weis Center for the Performing Arts conducted by Dr. William Payn. Recorded for broadcast by PBS television station WVIA and subsequently performed throughout the U.S and Europe. Published by C.F. Peters

Montclair State University Chorus
Heather Buchanan, conductor
Adriana Zabala, mezzo-soprano
Keith Phares, baritone
December 6, 2015

The Numbers

The Stories

For the Caregivers

Download Alzheimers Stories Libretto

Program Notes

In 2008, a member of the Susquehanna Valley Chorale who asked to remain anonymous made a donation to the chorale to help fund the commissioning of a musical work on the subject of Alzheimer’s disease to honor his parents, who had both died of it. 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 with a selected group of those stories becoming the basis for the work: Alzheimer’s Stories for soloists, chorus and large ensemble.

The work is in three movements the arc of which loosely mimics the progression of the disease:

The Numbers – an objective description of the discovery of the disease by Dr. Alois Alzheimer in 1901 including the number of individuals currently afflicted, future projections and dramatized conversations between Dr. Alzheimer and his first patient, Auguste Dieter. The movement ends with an extended setting of a quote from his patient Ich hab mich verloren, “I have lost myself.”

The Stories – a pastiche of a number of selected stories taken from the choir’s blog. With a mixture of pathos, poignancy and humor, we meet a number of individuals afflicted with the disease, portrayed by the two soloists, as well as the recollections of family members. Two notables: a woman who still thinks she’s on a boat to Panama with her father; and a WWII Navy veteran who repeats the same bawdy story of the war so many times that the chorus can recite it by heart.

For the Caregivers – The most difficult part of writing a work about such a terrible and ultimately hopeless disease was how to end the work with some semblance of hope. The clue came in a recollection by one of the chorus members about a visit to a nursing home where a patient asked them to sing. When asked what, the patient replied: “Sing anything.” First referenced in the second movement, this idea became the centerpiece and focus of the last movement. The core of the brilliantly realized libretto is as follows:

Find those you love in the dark and light. Help them through the days and nights.

Keep faith. They sense what they cannot show. Love and music are the last things to go. Sing anything.

Alzheimer’s Stories received its world premiere on October 9, 2009 performed by the Susquehanna Valley Chorale at the Weis Center for the performing arts in Lewisburg PA in a program entitled “Monument to Memory.” It was recorded for radio and television by the PBS station WVIA and broadcast in November, 2009 and has had subsequent performances throughout the U.S. and in Europe, was recently performed at Carnegie Hall by the San Antonio Mastersingers and is scheduled to be there again in April 2020.

According to recent data provided by the Texas Department of State Health Services, these are the most recent statistics on the disease.

    • Approximately 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease (AD).  Unless a cure or prevention is found, that number will increase to between 11 and 16 million by 2050.
    • Alzheimer’s affects up to 10 percent of people 65 and over and increasing to 50 percent at 85 and older.
    • Direct and indirect costs of AD and other dementias amount to more than $172 billion annually.
    • Almost 11 million Americans are caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia; in Texas, approximately 900,000 unpaid caregivers are providing care to the 340,000 individuals with the disease — this equates to 971 million hours of unpaid care at a cost of 11.1 billion dollars per year.
    • Texas ranks third in the number of Alzheimer’s disease cases and second in the number of AD deaths.
    • A new person develops Alzheimer’s disease every seventy seconds — this is projected to increase to every 33 seconds by 2050.
    • Between 2000 and 2006, deaths due to heart disease, stroke, and prostate cancer declined by 12 percent, 18 percent, and 14 percent, respectively, whereas deaths attributable to Alzheimer’s disease increased by 47 percent.

Alzheimer’s Stories is published by Edition Peters

What critics have to say about Alzheimer’s Stories:

“One of the greatest achievements a work of art can hope to reach is to bring us to our darkest places and show us a light. To illuminate our fears, ease our anxieties, and heal our pain. Whether or not you’ve struggled with this disease personally or as a caregiver, this is what makes Alzheimer’s Stories a truly special experience.”

– Kody Wallace, Choral Journal (Oct. 2018)

“At times somber, jaunty and inspirational, this earnest exploration of a difficult theme, conducted with great insight by Anna Hamre, connected on both a cerebral and emotional level.”

– The Fresno Bee

“Best Arts 2015” (Dec. 26, 2015) “In terms of getting the message out about this debilitating and devastating disease in a heartfelt and meaningful way through music, this reading of Cohen’s innovative work could be deemed a total success.”

– Guytano Parks, Cleveland Classical (Nov. 18, 2012)

Past and Upcoming Performances of Alzheimer's Stories
4/19/20National Concerts – Carnegie Hall
Bruce Rogers, conductor
9/22/19UU Church of Studio City Choir,
Jet Propulsion Labs Choir, Donald Brinegar Singers
Nancy Holland. Conductor
5/10/19Westmoreland Choral Society
Thomas Octave, conductor
4/13/19Texarkana Regional Chorale (Perot Theatre)
Marc-Andre Bougie, conductor
2/27-3/2/19ACDA 2019 National Conference in Kansas City (Helzberg Hall)
Tallahassee Community Chorus
Andre Thomas,
7/21-29/18Quintessence, Alburqueque NM
Matthew Greer, cond.
5/4, 5/5/18 University of San Francisco Choral Ensembles & Friends
Rebecca Seeman, cond.
3/25/18Voices of Canton, Canton OH
John Hayward, cond.
10/27/17Mississippi Chorus
Mark Nabholz
6/4/17Falmouth Chorale, Falmouth MA
John Yankee
4/30/17Deer Creek Chorale & Goucher College Chorus Towson, MD
Daniel McDavitt
5/30/16San Antonio Mastersingers (Carnegie Hall)
John Silantien
5/8/16San Antonio Mastersingers, The Bascillica of the Little Flower
John Silantien
3/13/16The Las Vegas Master Singers
David B. Weiller, cond.
1/30, 31/16Durham Community Church Choir, Durham NH
David Erwin, cond.
12/6/15Montclair State University Choir, Montclair NJ
Heather Buchanan
5/9/15Choral Art Masterworks Chorus, Portland, ME
Robert Russell (207) 780-5272
4/12/15University of Texas @ San Antonio Choir
John Silantien
3/22/15Fresno Community Chorus Master Chorale, Fresno CA
Anna Hamre (559) 278-2654
6/13,15/14VedMed Choir, Vienna Austria
Kujrt-Martin Herbst, cond.
1/25/14Tallahassee Community Chorus, Tallahassee FL
Andre Thomas, (850) 644-2730
11/18/13Choral Arts Society, Cleveland OH (Severance Hall)
Martin Kessler, cond.
11/11/12Minnesota Chorale, Minneapolis MN
Nancy Menk, (574) 284-4633
10/28/12Chamber Choir of Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids, MI
Mark Webb, (616) 575-3286
10/14/12Bach Choir of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh PA
Thomas Douglas, (412) 241-4044
6/9/12Angeles Chorale, Pasadena CA
John Sutton, (626) 815-6000 x3581
2/27/12Wayne State College Choir & Orchestra
Ronald Lofgren, (402) 375-7358
2/26/12Fort Dodge Chorale, Fort Dodge IA
Bruce Perry, cond.
11/19/10San Antonio Mastersingers, San Antonio TX
John Silantien
10/9/09Susquehanna Valley Chorale, Lewisburg PA
William Payn, (570) 837-3869