Dad with dementia’s piano playing is a powerful reminder that music heals
2 November 2020, 12:18 | Updated: 2 November 2020, 12:54
“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.
Dad’s ability to improvise and compose beautiful melodies on the fly has always amazed me.— Nick Harvey (@mrnickharvey) September 17, 2020
Tonight, I gave him four random notes as a starting point.
Although his dementia is getting worse, moments like this bring him back to me. pic.twitter.com/dBInVCTmfF
The father and son have since appeared together on Good Morning Britain, where Paul performed another moving improvisation live on TV.
80-year-old dementia sufferer Paul Harvey became a viral sensation for his amazing piano skills.— Good Morning Britain (@GMB) September 21, 2020
Paul shows just how brilliant his piano improvisation is live with @Piersmorgan and @susannareid100.
The result is inspiring...😢 pic.twitter.com/2MYpzsDhS4
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.
Dad has dementia. 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.— Nick Harvey (@mrnickharvey) June 23, 2019
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. pic.twitter.com/EQGcXBwB3w
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.’
❤️❤️❤️— James Rhodes (@JRhodesPianist) June 23, 2019
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 ❤️ https://t.co/t3IlavszIr— Emeli Sande (@emelisande) June 24, 2019
I moved away from Imberhorne in 1987 but I had Mr Harvey for choir while I was there. Whenever I hear Downtown by Petula Clark I think of him and how amazed I was that he could play everything without sheet music 😊 Bizarrely I was telling my 9 year old niece this only last week.— Julie Case (@julie_case) June 24, 2019
This is utterly beautiful and life-affirming. What an exceptional talent. Thank you for sharing it with us. https://t.co/sWvlNJhIYW— Rebecca Front (@RebeccaFront) September 18, 2020
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.
That is amazing - beautifully and sensitively played; not a single note out of place. #Music should never be cut from education: it is a lifeline— Peter Dyke (@peterdyke49) June 23, 2019
My grandmother when she had Alzheimer's, couldn't remember our names but put a piece of music in front of her & she could play it - anything. As children we would swop the carols book for Beatles songs & it made no odds, her fingers kept on playing.— T Spoon (@tspoontweet) June 23, 2019
Paul Harvey? Of Rumba Toccata fame? I won a music festival with that ?30 years ago, and still bring it out to entertain the family every now and then. If so, many thanks— Callux Ragden (@CRagden) June 23, 2019
Nick later shared a photograph of the original manuscript his father had used to write the song.
We’ve just found this. With lyrics by Pete Talman, ‘Where’s The Sunshine?’ was written for an original Imberhorne School (East Grinstead) production in the 1980s when dad was head of music and Pete was head of drama. It was a fantastic show. I remember it as if it were yesterday. pic.twitter.com/J1E8Gfv3dc— Nick Harvey (@mrnickharvey) June 24, 2019
Thanks for sharing your father’s performances with us, Nick – we hope he continues to find joy through beautiful music!