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“Alzheimer Stories” by Robert Cohen

composer robert s cohen alzheimer stories banner bio pic

In collaboration with the Hickory Choral Society

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

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.

Event details

Dates & times

Sunday, October 22, 2023
3:00 pm
4:30 pm


P.E. Monroe Auditorium


775 6th St NE
Hickory, NC 28601