Unique chorus gives voice to people with Alzheimer's

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The singers of the Giving Voice chorus know the heartbreak of fading memories. From soprano to bass, they are people with Alzheimer's and their caregiving partners or spouses.

"It's very, very good for getting my brain working," said Michael Brodie, who was diagnosed three years ago at age 79.

He's been married to his wife Jane for 45 years. He says there's something about the music that helps.

"I have no idea how all that works," he said. "I just am really glad that it's there."

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Members of the Giving Voice Chorus have Alzheimer's, or care for people with Alzheimer's.

CBS News

This is the group's most daunting project to date: learning nine original songs -- commissioned by the chorus and performed this summer in St. Paul, Minnesota.

"We both thought, 'Oh my lord, how are we gonna learn all this?' We've never heard it before," said Jane. "But we both have grown to really love the music."

Composer Victor Zupanc and poet Louisa Castner wrote the pieces with some help.  

"In every single song we can point to the line or an image that came from them," said Castner.

"They keep pulling us aside and saying, 'You-- you've given us a voice,'" Zupanc said.

The haunting "Ballad of the Dinghy" was inspired by caregiver Janet Labrecque. The chorus, for her, is a safe harbor.

"It really sums up the whole experience, of both the stormy days, uncertainty, but yet the kind of bedrock of friendship and family, and somehow knowing it's going to be alright," she said.

Recordings courtesy of Minnesota Public Radio. Footage: Twin Cities Public Television.

  • Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the chief medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook