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Like so many great ideas, Mind Music – North-West Musicians for Parkinson’s came about during a conversation in a pub. Liz Jordan and myself, two professional clarinettists, were enjoying a post-concert pint after a performance with the Hallé Orchestra and talking about our shared experience of losing a parent to Parkinson’s disease. After seeing our parents struggle so bravely with this debilitating illness, we both felt the need to take some positive action and to find a way to remember two special people. Being musicians, the logical step seemed to be to use our talents and make music to raise funds for the charity Parkinson’s UK.

The original idea was for a small-scale concert with a few musicians, but that seed of an idea has come to fruition in an event on a much larger scale, involving and reaching many more people. Musicians are often guilty of not really knowing the story or inspiration behind a piece of music; however, when Liz was preparing for a performance of a chamber concerto for clarinet and orchestra by American composer John Adams, she soon discovered that the inspiration behind the music was actually the composer’s experience of dealing with his own father’s Alzheimer’s. This really changed the way she felt about the music, and led her to research a whole lot of other music with links to neurodegenerative illness, including dementia, Alzheimer’s and stroke.

He would often not know which city he was performing in but he could remember every detail of the music

Her research has provided the framework for Mind Music, a project involving a concert on 3 April and a CD recording, with profits going directly to Parkinson’s UK. Liz and I will feature as clarinet soloists with the outstanding Northern Chamber Orchestra and conductor Stephen Barlow, in a programme of music that is all linked to neurodegenerative illness. We hope that as well as fundraising, this will also give our audience the opportunity to listen to music from a new perspective, and raise awareness around issues connected to these illnesses. Interestingly, Aaron Copland, whose beautiful Appalachian Spring will be performed, suffered from dementia. Whilst it’s said that he would often not know which city he was performing in, as soon as he was conducting, he could remember every detail of the music – food for thought as to the complexity of memory and the power of music.

Mind Music is also a great artistic venture and showcases many of the leading musicians in the North West. Liz is principal clarinet with the Northern Chamber Orchestra and I was principal clarinet with the Hallé until September last year. I’m currently combining my music with studying speech and language therapy at Manchester Metropolitan University so this project brings together my two worlds of healthcare and the arts, as well as being a great way to remember a parent.

My mum was sadly only 74 when she died and had suffered from Parkinson’s for many years. Although very stoic and brave, in the later years she would get terribly frustrated by her reduced mobility, poor balance and tremor. Mum was able to live at home, but this put a strain on my dad who worried terribly for the future and how he would cope with any further decline. Liz had a similar experience with her father and describes his dramatic decline with the illness. “After the diagnosis, my father had a very rapid decline over about five years. Considering that he was still going up ladders and leading a very active life until his late seventies, his decline in terms of mobility and posture were quite shocking.” In the end, both our parents had complications after falls from which they didn’t recover, which meant that we were spared the later stages of the illness and the potential need for more professional care. As Liz says: “If there is a silver lining, then it was being spared the loss of independence that was fast encroaching.”

The work of Parkinson’s UK is invaluable, not just in researching medication and a potential cure, but also in supporting those who suffer from the illness, their careers, friends and family. If you would like to support our fundraising project, then do come to our concert or please visit our crowdfunding page.

By making a pledge, however small, you’d be contributing to a great project and helping to create a lasting legacy for those affected by Parkinson’s disease.

The Mind Music benefit concert for Parkinson’s UK is on 3 April at 3pm in Cosmo Rodewald Concert Hall, Martin Harris Centre for Music and Drama, Manchester University

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