Humour breaks down the walls that isolate people. Your laugh can be magnified and reflected in the eyes, memories, and emotions of those in the circle.

I Can’t HEAR You!

In 2003, I traveled three thousand miles to visit my father who was hospitalized after a stroke. Recent bone implants had left me with both legs encased in cumbersome braces from ankle to hip. The metal hinges in the braces contributed to an interesting, if not alarming, check-in process at the airport.

The Stanley Cup hockey playoff had begun and the Ottawa Senators were in the final playoffs. Arriving at the Ottawa airport, I shuffled like a Senators goalie; returning home for the next match. 6-9

Learning to Crawl 6-9
You have to learn to crawl, to coin a phrase, before you can pitch forward on your face. The Comic Toolbox , John Vorhaus, p8

After I assured family members that I was able to drive Dad’s car I was, in turn, reassured that my stepmother knew how to get to the hospital. Both assumptions erred on the side of optimism. Joan’s health challenges included debilitating arthritis and dementia. Hospital visiting hours were ending soon. Without time for rest or rationality, we went in search of my father.

Joan, fretting about being late, declared repeatedly that Dad would kill her if she did not deliver me, and the daily newspaper, before visiting hours were over. I was exhausted and not functioning well. My dopamine level was low. Fourteen hours earlier, I had left the United States and was now careening around in a state of confusion. Being with a woman with full-blown dementia didn’t help my sense of security or balance.

Joan, who was not wearing her hearing aids, was unable to hear me, and finally hollered in frustration, “I can’t hear you!” I responded, equally loudly, “What?” She upped the decibel level and again shouted, “I can’t hear you!” I again yelled back, “What?

She paused, confused, and then laughed gleefully. She got the joke. We continued the quest for my father with Joan repeatedly asking questions, and me yelling “What? ” We laughed hilariously as we lurched through the dark outskirts of the city. Although Joan could not access her short-term memories, she was obviously remembering and enjoying my quirky use of humour in the face of absurdity and challenge.

A grand tale of our adventures that evening bears truth to my favourite mantra during trying times—“This will make a funny story.” Joan was being tossed between worry about my father and wonder at my ridiculous comments and outbursts of song.

One might judge that joking in this manner with someone dealing with dementia and memory loss might be considered unkind, if not downright cruel. Aware that I was sparking over forty years of shared laughter memories, I was encouraged to dream up ever more outrageous responses to her barrage of questions. 6-10

Dementia and Acetylcholine 6-10
The term “dementia” refers to impairment in intellectual ability due to organic brain disorder (Carlson, 1992). Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible progressive brain disease affecting approximately 5 percent of the population above the age of sixty-five. Confusion in processing incoming sensory information, difficulty with common tasks, and memory deficits especially of recent events characterize this disorder. Although its actual cause is unknown, it has been found that neurons that produce acetylcholine are among the first to degenerate, thereby resulting in the early memory loss characteristic of the beginning stages of the disease. The nerve cells of the cortex continue to degenerate until the brain can no longer perform the cognitive tasks necessary for survival or regulate the body’s metabolic equilibrium. Biomedical Foundations of Music as Therapy , Dale Taylor, p47

A situation that could have been fraught with frustration became the foundation for fun and familiarity.


For over two years I brought a weekly drum~story~song program to a day-care center for adults with neurological and physical challenges. The center provided medical attention, meals, activities, and a friendly dog named Ralph. The “regulars” were always eager to be the rhythm section for the saga of my command dance performance before the Queen of England. 6-11

Strengthening Social and Neural Networks 6-11
....Exercise that involves learning complex movements can impact our brains in other ways. Modern dance, basketball, and the martial arts involve a host of coordinated movements, and practicing them causes more connections to grow between neurons. Exercises that force us to improve balance and coordination may not only help overcome clumsiness but also reduce shyness and even enhance the ability to make friends; these kinds of exercises strengthen neural networks in the cerebellum, which is the area responsible not only for balance and physical coordination but also for coordinating our social interactions....A User’s Guide to the Brain, John J. Ratey, p360

The madcap tale, replete with Highland fling dancing, a thick Scottish brogue, dramatic gestures, and interactive participation, was always a hit.

One day, as I was in the middle of the poem, Ralph wandered into the circle. Eddie, who was a regular and enthusiastic participant, called out to the dog, “Sit!” I instantly hit the floor, faster than Ralph could chase a squirrel. There was a stunned silence as people tried to figure out what had just happened. My grin alleviated concerns about my safety.

When Eddie got it and laughed in delight, he explained my prank to others who had missed my pratfall. The participants were abuzz with the news. Those on the periphery were inching forward, trying to get a look at me splayed on the floor. 6-12

Follow the Falling Clown 6-12
The clown shows us our awkward human condition and encourages us to laugh at ourselves. We are all clowns, always getting fouled up, mixed up, thwarted by circumstance. We climb the ladder only to find it is leaning against the wrong wall. We search for hats that are already on our heads. We plan our days only to find that the days have other plans.

The clown points out our vulnerability. Although he is eager and hopeful, we know he will not succeed. His great triumph is the sheepish grin or silly shrug he displays after his failures. “Oh well, that’s the way it goes.” The clown quickly forgets the past and moves on to the next disaster. … The clown falls over for us, and stands up for us, too. Crazy Wisdom , Wes Nisker, p19-21

The room was in peals of laughter that rippled out, reaching other rooms. My ability to make bizarre leaps of language, logic, and body created an environment where there was no telling what mischief I would be up to (or down to) next. But no one wanted to miss another opportunity. The circle grew.

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Orchestration Techniques