The Electric Agora

by Mark English

The neurologist treating my mother’s Parkinson’s disease, an old-school physician with a heavy Afrikaans accent, first suggested using music as part of her treatment some ten years ago. We probably would have got around to it anyway, as she had had some early training in music and retained a great love for certain Romantic piano pieces and also for the popular music of her youth. Now that her cognitive powers are narrowing, music is the only art form that gets through to her, so during my evening visits, I play an eclectic mix of recordings, using her (usually very subtle) facial reactions as a guide to what is working for her. It’s an effort for her to speak and increasingly talking is reserved for polite interactions and practical concerns (about pain or discomfort, for example). Lately I have been selecting slow songs and arias of deep emotional…

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