NAHANT – David Bromer was a man of the mind, a consummate reader. He had a career in scientific research and a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Later, with his wife Anne, they founded Bromer Booksellers of Boston, dealing in rare and beautiful books. Stimulated by a life that revolved around intellectual pursuits, he once told his wife the worse thing that could happen to him would be memory loss.
David was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease a dozen years ago and is now in its advanced stage where he cannot speak in sentences. Before he became ill, the Nahant couple traveled the world purchasing treasured books and manuscripts, attended symphonies and enjoyed an active social and professional life.
“We had a great life, a brilliant life,” said Anne. She recalled one interesting sale. “We once had the privilege of selling a page from the Gutenberg Bible, c.1455. What was meaningful to us with our Jewish backgrounds was the fact that the leaf told the story of Judas Maccabee and subsequently the historical background of the Hanukkah holiday. It sold to a Jewish museum in Canada.”
Last April, Anne had dinner with her friend Katharina Radlberger, also of Nahant. Katharina’s profession as a concert violinist had come to a halt because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and she was looking for alternatives to being a member of an orchestra. So, the seeds of an idea began to sprout between the two friends.
“How would David feel if I gave him a concert?” Radlberger asked Anne.
They attempted a Zoom one-on-one concert, but that did not work well, so Radlberger came to their home and performed selections that David loves from Bach to the American Songbook. They hoped it would take him out of his illness for a time and “bring him to the surface,” said Radlberger.
Katharina now comes every Wednesday, and when Anne asks him if he wants to see her, he says, “Yes, yes, yes.”
For Katharina, it has been a spiritual endeavor to play for David. She is excited about including Hanukkah music for him between now and the Dec. 10 start of the Jewish Festival of Lights.
“There is more Jewish music to come and I am doing research already,” said Radlberger.
The violinist has played for people with memory loss since she was in her twenties. “The last thing that goes is the connection to deep emotions, music, movement and long term memories. When I play for David or someone with long-term memory loss, the personality comes to the surface. I see this with David. The music reaches him on a deep level and he’s able to come to the surface. I cannot just go there and play mindlessly. Everything I play, I must feel connected to emotionally or spiritually. This is such a gift for David and me. I’m opening up my heart and he’s opening his heart,” Radlberger said.
What she sees in David is “deep joy” coming through his eyes. She sees “his personality shining. He starts to look at me, he’s coming through. It’s a gift to see him come to the surface,” said Radlberger. “The violin is so close to the voice and yet there are no words.”
At her most recent concert in the Bromer home this month, David was “conducting” with a drumstick Radlberger had given him. He also stood and danced to a tango with Anne.
David Bromer is Radlberger’s first client in her new business endeavor, The Healing Violin/Alzheimer’s Project.
“I’d love for people to reach out to me, to play for their loved one for a half-hour or an hour. I can go to their home or meet somewhere. It is best in a private setting,” she said.
While her personality is best one-on-one, Radlberger’s specialty is playing in orchestras and performing recitals. Her focus is on the late 19th century up to World War I. Her performances range from Brahms to Mahler and she performs with her string quartet, Fin De Siècle, and travels to Vienna regularly where she works with Professor Clive Brown, an expert in performance practice of the 19th century.
Katharina Radlberger may be reached for The Healing Violin/Alzheimer’s Project at email@example.com.