One difficult part of growing older is the fear of dementia and the loss of short-term memory. But Dr. Benjamin Mast, an expert on the topic of Alzheimer’s disease, offers some encouragement. He says that patients’ brains are often so “well worn” and “habitual” that they can hear an old hymn and sing along to every word. He suggests that spiritual disciplines such as reading Scripture, praying, and singing hymns cause truth to become “embedded” in our brains, ready to be accessed when prompted. In Psalm 119:11, we read how the power of hiding God’s words in our heart can keep us from sinning. It can strengthen us, teach us obedience, and direct our footsteps (vv. 28, 67, 133). This in turn gives us hope and understanding (vv. 49, 130). Even when we begin to notice memory slips in ourselves or in the life of a loved one, God’s Word, memorized years earlier, is still there, “stored up” or “treasured” in the heart (v. 11
The conductor stood on the podium, his eyes scanning the choir and orchestra. The singers arranged the music in their folders, found a comfortable position for standing, and held the folder where they could see the conductor just over the top. Orchestra members positioned their music on the stand, found a comfortable position in their seats, and then sat still. The conductor waited and watched until everyone was ready. Then, with a downbeat of his baton, the sounds of Handel’s “Overture to Messiah” filled the cathedral.
When I asked a friend how his mother was getting along, he told me that dementia had robbed her of the ability to remember a great many names and events from the past. “Even so,” he added, “she can still sit down at the piano and, without sheet music, beautifully play hymns by memory.”
From 200 miles above Earth, Chris Hadfield, Canadian astronaut and commander of the International Space Station, joined in song with a group of students in a studio on Earth. Together they performed “Is Somebody Singing,” co-written by Hadfield and Ed Robertson.
While I was talking with a gifted pianist, she asked me if I played any musical instruments. When I responded, “I play the radio,” she laughed and asked if I had ever wanted to play any instrument. My embarrassed answer was, “I took piano lessons as a boy but gave it up.” Now, in my adult years, I regret not continuing with the piano. I love music and wish I could play today. That conversation was a fresh reminder to me that life is often constituted by the choices we make—and some of them produce regret.
In Wales, the music of men’s chorus groups is deeply engrained in the culture. Prior to World War II, one Welsh glee club had a friendly yet competitive rivalry with a German glee club, but that bond was replaced with animosity during and after the war. The tension was gradually overcome, though, by the message on the trophy shared by the two choruses: “Speak with me, and you’re my friend. Sing with me, and you’re my brother.”
One winter night composer Johann Sebastian Bach was scheduled to debut a new composition. He arrived at the church expecting it to be full. Instead, he learned that no one had come. Without missing a beat, Bach told his musicians that they would still perform as planned. They took their places, Bach raised his baton, and soon the empty church was filled with magnificent music.