Face of Alzheimer’s

My mother has Alzheimer’s. At writing this, she is a month short of her 91st birthday and is in relatively good health otherwise. She is in a full care facility and is comfortable there. Visiting her is both difficult and fascinating. Her mind is slowly failing, but the decline is in waves, as is common with this disease. At times she seems clear and interacts easily. However, the majority of the time, she doesn’t remember anyone except me. I can see that it takes her longer and longer to recognize me, and some days not at all. She responds to questions with answers that are not connected to the inquiry and usually with only a couple of words seldom speaking in sentences.

Although most of my mum’s memory is gone, music, especially that of her youth, is still very deep in her. She remembers the words to many songs, and can sing them at the mere mention of the song title. It seems that music is stored in another part of her brain, which the disease has not reached fully.

smileyaugust54Humour is similar. I always tell her jokes, so she can laugh. As my mum was born in Scotland, puns along with playfully insulting the English, the Irish and most often the Scottish, all said in a Scottish brogue are the best way to make her laugh. She can even follow a series of jokes on the same subject, even though the logic of puns is usually quite complex and divergent.

I find most interesting is how social behaviour seems to be deeply situated in her brain. My mum has always been reactionary, responding to a question with an answer that seems to fit, until you probe further. She has always saved face. When I was young, everyone outside of my house loved my parents. My parents were considered to be kind, funny and generous. They volunteered for a number of organizations and were well known in the community. At home was a different story. My parents battled constantly with all the rage, vitriol, hostility, and loathing that anyone could possibly manifest. Often it was thrown at my sister and myself as well. Their transition from Jekyll to Hyde was the most difficult, as it could happen in less time than it took to close a door. No one outside of the house knew who my parents truly were.

Having an outside face was important for my mother, although she was probably never consciously aware of it. Throughout her life she would greet someone with a big smile and a wonderful compliment, yet the moment their back was turned she would make a hate-filled remark about them. Still with her advancing Alzheimer’s, she will put on a front for people but scowl or grumble when they are gone.

Having this “face” is probably the deepest thing in her psyche. Somehow even in the depths of this disease her psyche constantly develops new face saving devices. Last year, when I asked my name, she would respond correctly. Six months ago she answered by jokingly saying three Scottish names: MacTavish, McNab, and McKay. Now she responds with “Same name as I have.” She has a number of these face saving phrases, and they come out immediately, whereas a full sentence is difficult in any other conversations.

Keeping her laughing
Keeping her laughing

There probably is good reason for all what I have observed in my mother’s daily life. As learning social behaviour and putting on a “face,” is one of the first things we do as a child. We make faces for our parents, and we mimic and respond to theirs. We respond to foolish things our parents do and our laugh always gets a warm response from our caregivers. Music is often used as a comfort for babies, and we often start to sing well before we use words. Social behaviour, humour and music were the first to be formed in our psyche and the last to go.

I will continue to tell my mum jokes and keep her laughing and when she can’t sing anymore, I will sing for her. Even though my mum terrorized me, and I still am in pain from my childhood. Coming home from visiting her, I am so extremely tired that I often sleep deeply for a couple of hours. It takes a toll. Yet, I have a deep sense of compassion. I will continue to take care of her until she passes. Is this me putting on a “face”?

Thanks to Kia Ull for this link:

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

Bali Bamboo Music

When in Bali in 1984, I was walking home one night sometime past midnight. In the distant I heard a deep percussive sound that led me behind a few buildings to a covered performance area. It was a full performance of Jegog Bumbung, a dance drama where a cocky young man chased a single woman dancer. She coyly flirted with him until he caught her and then submitted to his charms. After an intermission there was a scream and the man flew out behind the screen in fear chased by his newly married wife who is now obviously in the dominant role. The music was performed by an orchestra of struck bamboo tubes open on one end with a large tongues carved on one side, suspended in frames. The largest of these instruments had pipes at least three metres long. They were accompanied by a number of sets of progressively smaller instruments playing the characteristic Balinese interlocking rhythms. This ensemble of instruments is called Gamelan Grantang. The sound of the big instruments was very round and deep and traveled well in the night air. This performance went on for hours and although I was the only non-Balinese there I sat listening and watching to almost dawn.

Tingklik
Tingklik

A few weeks later, I ran into another version of a bamboo gamelan in a small village close to where I had found a small cabin to rent on the beach (see Bali Night). One morning I again followed music in the air and came upon two men sitting on their porch playing a matched pair of bamboo instruments called tingklik, which looked identical to the smallest of the instruments played in the Gamelan Grantang. Although they played very fast interlocking parts, they didn’t seem to tire as they played for almost an hour.

The older man invited me to sit down, served me tea and they continued to play. After playing for a while, he asked me if I would like to try the instrument, and handed me the mallets. Although the tingklik is about a dozen hollow tuned bamboo tubes suspended from a small frame the technique for playing it is quite complex. The left hand plays a rather simple melody on the lower tubes, while the right hand plays the rapid intricate patterns following the melody while interlocking with the second instrument.

On just hearing the piece, I was only able to remember a few notes on the right hand before making a mistake at which point my impromptu teacher, took the mallets from my hand and played the piece again, all fifteen minutes of it! He then calmly handed the mallets back to me and asked me to try again. I only managed to play a few more notes correctly before running into problems, and again the mallets were politely taken from my hands, and the full fifteen-minute piece was played again. This process continued well into the afternoon, with my teacher patiently playing the full piece again and again as I muddled my way through it.

Obviously this was a normal for my teacher, and he seemed to have all the time and patience in the world. After many hours, I was exhausted and somewhat frustrated, and we sat for a while to talk and drink tea. While we talked his five year-old son picked up a mallet and slowly but accurately played the whole piece. I realized that I had the wrong teacher, as it would have been easier for me to learn from the five year-old! When I asked how long my teacher had been teaching his son, he replied “Oh I haven’t taught him anything, he has just heard me play so much, He knows all the pieces by heart.”

Our modern world doesn’t allow us to have the time or patience for this type of musical transmission, and I didn’t have the time to stay and study this amazing instrument, although I really wanted to. I imagine that growing up from birth hearing these sounds would implant the music far deeper in your psyche than any other form of learning. Maybe I was born in the wrong time.

I was so intrigued by these instrumental discoveries that I explored more and found that there were pockets of unique music and instruments everywhere in Bali. The two tingklik played together is often referred to as Gamelan Rindik, although a full Rindik often uses a suling, and there is also another large bamboo ensemble called Gamelan Jegog that uses a four-note scale. I have recently learned that there are versions in Java as well. (see: Aural Archipelago)

Mystery gamelan
Mystery gamelan

A month after my impromptu lesson, I traveled to a small village in northern Bali to discover a single bamboo xylophone that was quite different in shape than any other that I had seen on the island. It had bamboo slats of different sizes for keys and bamboo tube resonators. I asked some local people where the instrument was from. “From here,” they replied, “it’s native to our village.” “Do you know anybody who can play it?” I asked. “There is no-one left who knows how to play it,” they replied, “the last person died a year ago.” “Are there any recordings or books on how to play it?” I asked. “No,” was the reply, “nothing at all. The music is lost.” Hearing this was a shock and it deeply saddened me. Since then I have given a good portion of my life to support and preserve traditional instruments and music wherever I could.

Jogeg Bambung with the  Gamelan Grantang:

Gamelan Rindik:

The four note scale Gamelan Jegog:

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

Rubber Time in Java

Indonesia was my first experience immersing myself in a new culture, and it opened my mind to a world of thousands of different musical perspectives. This is where my musical education kicked into high gear.java rebab

I arrived in Java in time to attend a performance of an ancient court gamelan at the old palace in Jogjakarta on Eid, the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The courtyard was filled with big crowd eating and socializing. I was not surprised by the casualness of the event, as I had attended other events in Bali that were also a combination of ritual ceremony, formal concert, and casual social gathering.

This balance of formal and casual was also present in the music. Gamelans are performed in interlocking parts at a slow to moderate speed in Java and at a lightening speed in Bali. Yet, that day I heard an old piece that was far slower than I had ever heard before. So slow in fact that there was a repeating section where a number of musicians that in theory should hit a note at the same time, but in practices they all hit the note at a slightly different time, creating a sort of haphazard staggered effect. This was a shock to my organized western mind and I initially thought they were a bit sloppy. But as they continued to play, I began to hear the beauty in this effect as it sounded very much like rainfall.

The gamelan orchestra was split into two parts on either side of the courtyard, and would play sometimes separately and sometimes together. After going back and forth between them for a while I decided to just sit on one side and listen. I sat in the shade very close to the gong player, and had a good view of the orchestra. In some pieces the gong is played quite often, while in others the gong cycle is very long and the gong is seldom heard. I was watching the gong player during one of the latter pieces, where the time between gong strikes was almost ten minutes. The player struck the gong, and then casually turned around to his friend behind him and started a conversation, he then lit a cigarette, talked for a while longer and then got up and walked off. I saw him occasionally walking through the crowd stopping to talk for a while and then disappearing again. Hearing the gong cycle coming to an end I noticed him casually return and sit down, but with his back turned to the gong. He started talking passionately to his friends while pulling out his lunch and beginning to eat. He seemed to be oblivious to his rapidly approaching cue, as he became further involved with his conversation and meal. I became quite anxious at his apparent lack of concern and wondered if he knew how close his cue was, and there it was, and he hadn’t heard it! I was surprised no-one called to him to quickly hit the gong when he stuffed some food in his mouth to empty his hand, reached for the mallet, and casually leaned over and hit the gong over his shoulder at the exact “right” late moment. The mother gong is often played after the end of the rhythmic cycle, which in the west we would consider late. Sometimes in Indonesian music such a musical marker might be far later than a western musical mind would ever expect, and in this piece it was even later still.

There is an expression in Indonesia called “rubber time” as time is a very relative concept there, stretching like rubber, and this certainly applies to music there. That day I realized that the strict adherence to time so important in the western world was not always necessary for music.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014