In February of 2017 I began a six week residency at Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute to learn about Alzheimer's research from Dr. Paul Coleman and Dr. Diego Mastroeni, in order to construct a "neuro-classical" composition about neurodegenerative disease. The project was a part of the new Design and Arts Corps at the Herberger Institute and culminated in a public concert on April 26th, 2017.
The piece I composed for this event is a quintet for flute, clarinet, violin, viola and cello, and is titled "Stages."
Program Notes for "Stages"
In this piece I have attempted to capture the daily struggles of Alzheimer’s sufferers and their caregivers as the disease progresses through various stages over time. While the experience of dealing with Alzheimer’s is not consistent from one person or family to another, the constantly changing nature of the disease takes a tremendous emotional and physical toll upon all affected. Much of the emotional content of this piece is based upon listening to the stories of caregivers who have watched their loved ones change, lose their cognitive abilities, and ultimately pass away. Despite these challenges, however, moments of peace and sweetness can be found in the lives of those caring for Alzheimer’s patients, and these moments have been appropriately represented in corresponding places in the music as well.
One common thread I have discovered in many stories about living with Alzheimer's disease is that while the sufferer undergoes dramatic changes in behavior over time, some elements of his or her personality comes through in ways that are often unexpected. For this reason, I have chosen a 12-note theme (first heard in the clarinet) that represents the personality of the affected person, which undergoes a variety of permutations over the course of the piece. The support of loved ones, community members, and specialists can also be heard in various countermelodies played by the flute and strings. Stages ends on a chord that can only be described as bittersweet. Its lack of complete resolution is both a nod to the fact that the effects ofAlzheimer's linger on in the lives of caregivers long after the death of a loved one, and to the fact that the disease represents an immense societal and cultural problem that has yet to be solved.
Pictured left to right: Dr. Paul Coleman, Dr. Diego Mastroeni, composer Zachary Bush, composer Stephen Mitton