Music and neurodegenerative disease awareness have been known to dovetail effectively in recent times.
In September of last year, indie rock band Daughter released their single Doing The Right Thing, which showed singer Elena Tonra witnessing the horror of Alzheimer’s disease through her elderly grandmother’s eyes.
And on April 3 the Northern Chamber Orchestra (NCO) will perform a concert at the 350-seat Cosmo Rodewald Hall in the University of Manchester’s Martin Harris Centre to raise awareness of the issue and fund further support and research.
The project is being led by Mind Music North West, a collaborative effort created by local clarinettists Elizabeth Jordan and Lynsey Marsh, who first met 15 years ago, and who share experiences of losing parents to Parkinson’s.
“We first chatted about doing some fundraising for Parkinson’s during a tea break between rehearsal and concert, I think in a pub in Bradford!” Lynsey told MM.
“We had both lost a parent around the same time in 2014.
“We felt that putting on a concert would be a positive or cathartic way of remembering my Mum and Liz’s Dad.”
Neurodegenerative disease is an umbrella term covering a wide range of diseases marked by the gradual loss of function of nerve cells, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and motor neurone disease.
These conditions mainly affect middle-aged and elderly people and are incurable.
The duo’s experiences with Parkinson’s are instructive of the cruel unpredictability of neurodegenerative diseases.
Lynsey’s mother struggled with Parkinson’s for over fifteen years but was spared the ‘really devastating’ side effects, while Elizabeth’s father suffered a swift decline from the illness over five years.
“I can’t speak for Liz, but my mum coped very well for many years, and it was only in the last few that her mobility really suffered and managing to live at home was challenging,” Lynsey said.
— NorthernChamberOrch (@NCO01) February 4, 2016
“She died after complications following a fall and although only 74, was spared some of the really devastating impact of Parkinson’s in the later stages.”
“It was very sad to see someone who was up ladders doing DIY into his late seventies being so rapidly and severely impaired,” Elizabeth added of her father.
But it is these experiences that have influenced the pair’s work with the project – something which is rings true for all of the pieces that they will be working into the concert.
The pair’s original idea of a small fundraiser has slowly blossomed into something much larger, which involves music therapists, humanities departments and even an Erasmus student from the USA.
Lynsey herself has worked for fifteen years as principal clarinettist in the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester, while Elizabeth holds the same role for the NCO.
They are hoping that the intimate chamber concert will attract enough interest to sell out the 350-seat capacity Cosmo Rodewald Hall, in part due to the concert’s unique programme.
“Liz [Jordan] has been the driving force in choosing repertoire,” Lynsey said.
“It all started when she was preparing American composer John Adams’ chamber concerto for clarinet and discovered that it was written as a musical exploration of Adams’ father’s struggle with Alzheimer’s.
— Martin Harris Centre (@MHCentre) March 9, 2016
“She’d soon come up with lots of interesting and quality repertoire with similar connections, all of which we were very keen to perform and record.
“In the end, we were spoilt for choice, but feel that the music we now have will offer something for everyone.
“It’s a great eclectic mix and a lovely chance to showcase some excellent music-making in the North West.”
Pieces played will include include Concert Piece No. 1 by Felix Mendelssohn, whose life is believed to have been cut short by a series of strokes, and Richard Strass’s serenade From An Invalid’s Workshop.
These will be performed alongside more recent pieces such as Appalachian Spring, written by the late American composer Adam Copland, and Last Memory, a solo clarinet piece by the University of Manchester lecturer Kevin Malone which explores his father’s memories triggered by Alzheimer’s.
Elizabeth is keen to emphasize that music doesn’t exist in its own right, but is influenced into being by many matters, be they social, political, or in this case, health-related.
She uses the example of Copland’s Appalachian Spring, one of his most popular pieces, which he was able to conduct well into his old age and diagnosis with Alzheimer’s.
Mind Music has already received support from other musicians and healthcare representatives, along with funding from charities The Wellcome Trust and The Ida Carroll Trust.
1 month to our concert featuring Copland’s Appalachian Spring! Despite his Alzheimer’s, Copland could conduct the piece late into his life.
— MindMusic NorthWest (@MindMusicNW) March 8, 2016
However, Mind Music’s ambition doesn’t make funding it easy, with the project’s Crowdfunder noting that the scale of the project has ‘significant financial implications’.
As a result, Lynsey stressed that the project still has some way to go in its fundraising – it is currently looking to crowdfund £12,000.
“The money raised from crowdfunding goes towards the actual costs associated with putting on a concert and making a CD with an orchestra of around 30 players,” she said.
“These last few weeks of crowdfunding are really important in our fundraising and, let’s put it this way, we’ll certainly sleep easier if we reach our target!
“Liz and I certainly won’t be taking any soloist’s fees and we hope that box office and CD sales will ensure there is plenty for the charity.
“We hope that our contribution will help the charity in the vital work it does supporting those affected by Parkinson’s.”
Despite the project’s financial challenges and its harrowing context it’s clear that Lynsey and Elizabeth are excited about the prospect of Mind Music and what it can do to help Parkinson’s sufferers.
Hopefully by April 3 they will have peace of mind, knowing they are helping others to maintain theirs.
Image courtesy of Mind Music North West, via Vimeo, with thanks