Robert S. Cohen | composer

Alzheimer’s Stories (2009)

Mezzo-Soprano & Baritone Soloists, SATB chorus, piano, clarinet, violin, cello, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, trombone, tuba, timpani, 4 percussion

Duration: c. 32'

Download the libretto HERE


Brief Description

Alzheimer’s Stories is a large work for soloists, chorus, and large ensemble. It was commissioned by the Susquehanna Valley Chorale and is based on the libretto by Herschel Garfein. The libretto tells recollections of chorus members and friends with relatives who’ve had the dreaded disease. It premiered on October 9, 2009, at the Weis Center for the Performing Arts, conducted by Dr. William Payn. It was recorded for broadcast by PBS television station WVIA and subsequently performed throughout the U.S. and Europe. It is published by Edition Peters.

Alzheimer’s Stories is published by Edition Peters.

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.

What they’re saying . . .

“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. 2012)

Past Performances . . .

  • November 19, 2023, 3:00 PM — Oratorio Society of Minnesota, Matthew Mehaddey, Artistic Director, Roseville Lutheran Church, W. Roseville, Minnesota
  • October 22, 2023 — Hickory Choral Society, Dr. Ryan Luhrs conducting, Hickory, North Carolina
  • March 19, 2023 — Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, Buffalo, New York
  • March 18-19, 2023 — Sacramento Master Singers, Dr. Ralph Hughes, conductor, Sacramento, California
  • November 17, 2022 — Spartanburg Master Chorale, Spartanburg, South Carolina
  • May 24, 2020 — Orange Community Master Chorale, Orange, California
  • April 19, 2020 — National Concerts, Bruce Rogers, conductor, Carnegie Hall, New York, New York
  • September 22, 2019 — Unitarian Universalist Church of Studio City Choir, Jet Propulsion Labs Choir, Donald Brinegar Singers, Nancy Holland, conductor, Los Angeles, California
  • May 10, 2019 — Westmoreland Choral Society, Thomas Octave, conductor, Greensberg, Pennsylvania
  • April 13, 2019 — Texarkana Regional Chorale, Marc-Andre Bougie, conductor, Perot Theater, Texarkana, Texas
  • February 27-March 2, 2019 — Tallahassee Community Chorus, Andre Thomas, conductor, ACDA 2019 National Conference, Helzberg Hall, Kansas City, Missouri
  • July 21-29, 2018 — Quintessence, Matthew Greer, conductor, Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • May 4-5, 2018 — University of San Francisco Choral Ensembles & Friends, Rebecca Seeman, conductor, San Francisco, California
  • March 25, 2018 — Voices of Canton, John Howard, conductor, Canton, Ohio
  • October 27, 2017 — Mississippi Chorus, Mark Nabholz, conductor, Jackson, Mississippi
  • June 4, 2017 — Falmouth Chorale, John Yankee, conductor, Falmouth, Massachusetts
  • April 30, 2017 — Deer Creek Chorale & Goucher College Chorus, Daniel McDavitt, conductor, Towson, Maryland
  • May 30, 2016 — San Antonio Mastersingers, John Silantien, conductor, Carnegie Hall, New York, New York
  • May 8, 2016 — San Antonio Mastersingers, John Silantien, conductor, Basilica of the Little Flower, San Antonio, Texas
  • March 13, 2016 — The Las Vegas Master Singers, David B. Weiller, conductor, Las Vegas, Nevada
  • January 30-31, 2016 — Durham Communty Church Choir, David Erwin, conductor, Durham, New Hampshire
  • December 6, 2015 — Montclair State University Choir, Heather Bucanan, conductor, Montclair, New Jersey
  • May 9, 2015 — Choral Art Masterworks Chorus, Robert Russell, conductor, Portland, Maine
  • April 12, 2015 — University of Texas Choir, John Silantien, conductor, San Antonio, Texas
  • March 22, 2015 — Fresno Community Chorus Master Chorale, Anna Hamre, conductor, Fresno, California
  • June 13-15, 2014 — VedMed Choir, Kurt-Martin Herbst, conductor, Vienna, Austria
  • January 25, 2014 — Tallahassee Community Chorus, Andre Thomas, conductor, Tallahassee, Florida
  • November 18, 2013 — Choral Arts Society, Martin Kessler, conductor, Severence Hall, Cleveland, Ohio
  • November 11, 2012 — Minnesota Choral, Nancy Menk, conductor, Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • October 28, 2012 — Chamber Choir of Grand Rapids, Mark Webb, conductor, Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • October 14, 2012 — Bach Choir of Pittsburg, Thomas Douglas, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania
  • June 9, 2012 — Angeles Chorale, John Sutton, conductor, Pasadena, California
  • February 27, 2012 — Wayne State College Choir & Orchestra, Ronald Lofgren, Detroit, Michigan
  • February 26, 2012 — Fort Dodge Chorale, Bruce Perry, conductor, Fort Dodge, Iowa
  • November 19, 2010 — San Antonio Mastersingers, John Silantien, conductor, San Antonio, Texas
  • October 9, 2009 — Susquehanna Valley Chorale, William Payn, conductor, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania