Dad with dementia’s piano playing is a powerful reminder that music heals

2 November 2020, 12:18 | Updated: 2 November 2020, 12:54

By Helena Asprou

“Dad has dementia yet he is playing this from memory. The power of music is a wondrous thing”

These videos of Paul Harvey, an elderly pianist with dementia, serve as a powerful reminder of the healing powers of music.

Paul’s son Nick, a TV composer from East Sussex, first shared a video of his father’s playing on Twitter in June 2019. It was a wonderful moment, and one that connected with thousands of people around the world.

In the video 80-year-old Paul plays an elegant melody, ‘Where’s The Sunshine’, a piece he had written over 30 years ago while he was working as head of music and drama at Imberhorne School.

And although Paul now lives with dementia, the video shows him recalling the music and performing his piece perfectly.

Now, Paul’s music-making has inspired a £1m charity donation from Sir Tom Hunter, Scotland’s first ever billionaire. Hunter says the donation will be split between the Alzheimer's Society and Music for Dementia.

Read more: 'Music for people living with dementia is a necessity’, says national campaign >

Paul Harvey performs Bach
Paul Harvey performs Bach. Picture: Nick Harvey

Nick has shared other heart-warming videos of his father – including where he turns four notes into a brilliant improvisation, and of him playing Bach (see above).

The father and son have since appeared together on Good Morning Britain, where Paul performed another moving improvisation live on TV.

Previously, Nick posted: “Sometimes he drifts into another world and I feel like I’m losing him. He is never more present, however, than when he plays the piano.

“He came to mine today and I asked him to play one of his compositions. He thought he wouldn’t be able to remember it.”

That certainly wasn’t the case: Paul remembered the piece note-for-note, and gave his son a moving two-minute recital (see video above).

Ever since Nick shared the videos, he has seen an overwhelming response as Twitter followers have been equally touched by his father’s performance.

Among the thousands of people to leave their comments were pianist James Rhodes and chart-topping artist Emeli Sandé.

The ’Read All About It’ singer wrote: ‘Thank you @mrnickharvey for sharing this personal moment. Your dad's composition is beautiful.

‘Listening to him play, I am reminded of the healing power of music and the refuge it provides for us. Love to your dad and family and all others suffering with dementia.’

And while some Twitter users chose to share their personal experiences, others highlighted the need for music education.

This is especially significant in a period when many schools across the country have said they are experiencing cuts and major changes to the curriculum, despite the proven benefits of music on people living with dementia.

As well as reducing symptoms such as anxiety and depression in those with the condition, listening to music or playing an instrument can also help them to maintain their speech and language skills.

Nick later shared a photograph of the original manuscript his father had used to write the song.

Thanks for sharing your father’s performances with us, Nick – we hope he continues to find joy through beautiful music!