My dear friend Gregory was diagnosed with early onset of Altzheimers when he was only 55. Since then pieces of his brilliant self have fallen away, including his amazing ability to play the piano. He had a concert grand piano in the living room of his and MH’s first house where sometimes, if we were really lucky, he would sit and play for us. When our son was young, he would sit next to Gregory and watch him work his musical magic on the keys. Sometimes Gregory would let IB pound out notes on his exquisite and formidable Kawai.
Gregory was incredibly accomplished on the piano. From Gershwin to Chopin he challenged himself to learn the most complicated and profound pieces of music, and played them with passion, heart, and intellectual virtuosity.
Today is Chopin’s birthday, Gregory’s favorite composer, and his favorite piece is his Ballad in Gm Opus 23, which at one time he was actually able to play. In commemoration of this day, I sat and carefully listened to this Chopin Ballad and came to a stunning realization that Gregory has become this composition—a complicated, simultaneously dissonant and melodic piece of music. I imagined that the many contrasts this piece of music holds is like being inside Gregory’s head— the peace and the turmoil, the quiet and the chaos, the soft and the loud, the slow and the fast, the here and the there– a jumble of the simple present and a discordant understanding; a pure, simple beauty and the disparate, conflicting, half-remembered melodic lines.
Chopin’s Ballad ends after about nine minutes. Gregory’s experience doesn’t. As his balance progresses toward the dissonant, as his key changes become more and more major, he has given us the gift of Chopin to help us hold onto the central chord of the music that is Gregory.
MH has an particularly poignant and touching story of Gregory and Chopin on his blog.