After my father died what happened to me was of less interest than it had been previously.

I thought often of the hollows of his face in death but without much feeling. During this time I listened to Chopin.

The motor symptoms of the disease result from the death of cells in the  substantia nigra, a region of the midbrain.

The proximity of s and d on the keyboard, lateral neighbors, causes me regularly to mistype the word died as dies, so death is always happening, never completed, a spun-out or dilated present, which is someone’s definition of the lyric. This flicker between tenses a mere matter of typographic coincidence.


Only the sequence and canonic writing of mm. 50–3, and the dominant of m. 57 redirect the harmony back to the tonic, saving the musical narrative from the temporal catastrophe of a story that never moves forward in time and that gives no sense of action.

Around other people I felt more and more like a trapped animal. I thought often of the word forced as applied to late winter blooms. No particular person or circumstance entrapped me, but often I wanted to flee my own body rather than suffer myself to bloom indoors.

Tonic may mean a restorative medicine. Or in music, the first note in the scale around which a piece revolves: the keynote.


The numbness started in the hospital, when he began to have difficulty breathing. It was difficult to watch and to feel at once.

Keyboard music of the Classical and Romantic eras, from Haydn up to Bartók in fact, which has decisively shaped our perception of the piano, is so concerned with the projection of a legato sound that it makes us forget that true legato is impossible on the instrument.

I chose watching.

What one felt most was the opening up of gaps.


I thought about the blood-brain barrier and its relation to mind-body dualism. I spoke to my father as if he were my child.

In the case of strings, brass and woodwind, the envelope of sound is extinguished as the player moves from one note to the next, without overlap and, if they wish, without any gap. This is not possible with the piano. However, listeners ignore the decay of the piano’s sound, and accept the aspiration to a perfect legato as real.

Through his last months I was in revolt against the word decline though I often forced myself to say the word aloud to others in describing his condition.

I would not, for example, compare my father’s state to my childhood memories of him, but rather kept my mind trained on the present. This task was made easier by the three-hour clock that is the body of a Parkinson’s patient, declining and then resetting itself with each pill, time narrowed to this compressed diurnal circle.


Chopin’s variations in the fourth Ballade repeat the basic musical structure but multiply greatly the number of notes played. As if to replay a memory but with increasing granularity.

The pathways and signals covered here include the death receptors.

Hospital robe ties. Stain on the lower lip from a crushed pill.

Patient is a curious word because it is exactly patience that Parkinson’s deprives its sufferer of. My father, impatient even before he was ill, became almost incapable of mental or physical rest.


I thought about different kinds of laws and the different ways they compel.

Property law.

The law of entropy, the laws of motion, the law of diminishing returns.

With a dying person as with an infant one makes oneself hollow and without thoughts, a kind of wind instrument, emitting a meaningless and dulling music. Listeners ignore the decay.


O Listeners, ignore




Wikipedia, Parkinson’s Disease

Michael Klein, “Chopin’s Fourth Ballade as Musical Narrative” Music Theory Spectrum 26:1

Andy Hamilton, “The Sound of Music”


Venderova K, Park DS., “Programmed cell death in Parkinson’s disease.”