Defying the Odds: Dementia Suffering Composer Conducts Symphony Orchestra At 81

Defying the Odds: Dementia Suffering Composer Conducts Symphony Orchestra At 81

Note: This article may contain commentary or the author's opinion.

Acclaimed pianist/composer and former music teacher Paul Harvey became well known to classical music lovers all over Europe and especially in England. During the mid 60’s having appeared on stage and in concert halls performing both on radio and on the BBC.

However, after his son was born Harvey decided to give up the limelight for a more sedate and structured lifestyle, becoming a music teacher and spending over 20 years teaching at the Imberhorne School in Grinstead, West Sussex, England. The renowned school boasts such notables as English musician, producer and songwriter Nick Van Eede, best known for his 1986 number one ballad, “I Just Died in Your Arms” along with his band Cutting Crew.

Harvey, along with teaching music continued writing music and composing, all of his life, when he suddenly began suffering the ravages of dementia, which slowly began robbing him of his love for music.

However, with the help of his son Nick (also a music composer) along with the Alzheimer Society and the organization Music for Dementia which advocates for individuals like Harvey, the ability to access live interactive music daily as part of an overall treatment regimen for individuals suffering from dementia.

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Studies have shown music provides an “immediate and positive engagement effects in subjects with apathy, regardless of the severity of their dementia.”

Harvey’s journey began last year at 80-years old when Nick decided to videotape his dad playing the piano, stating at the outset; “Dad has dementia yet he is playing this from memory. The power of music is a wondrous thing.”

The video footage captures the elderly pianist playing one of his signature pieces, ‘Where’s The Sunshine’, a piece he had written over 30 years ago while he was working as head of music and drama department at Imberhorne School.

Harvey’s incredible performance inspired music lovers around the world, to continue using the power of music to inspire others suffering from dementia.

However, Harvey had another dream he hoped to fulfill, that dream was to conduct a symphony orchestra playing his own songs.

His son Nick had recorded him improvising a two-minute piece from four notes—F natural, A, D, and B natural—and posted the footage on Twitter.

Now at the tender age of 81, Paul Harvey would once again defy the odds.

To mark a year since the video was aired showing him playing his composition on breakfast TV, Harvey was invited to conduct the BBC Philharmonic orchestra playing two of his compositions at the studio in Salford.

The elderly composer spent an emotional afternoon rehearsing with the orchestra, reviewing the 4-notes that he had memorized, while his son Nick provided both emotional support, and assisted on the piano, playing a musical arrangement from one of his dad’s older compositions as reinforcement.

The moment of truth at hand, Harvey walked on stage, to applause and admiration, what followed was an awe inspiring performance.

After receiving countless standing ovations, the former music teacher and classical pianist exclaimed; “It was magical, it was very, very special to work with such wonderful musicians.”

It made me feel alive, I couldn’t believe that an orchestra was playing my music and I was standing in front of it conducting them.”

Adding; “I hadn’t conducted in such a long time before this, it was a real thrill.”

Nick also chimed in stating; “It moved dad and me and my two brothers beyond compare.”

It was a dream come true for dad to conduct and play with an orchestra of that caliber as an 81 year old. It’s what dreams are made of.”