Do Re Mi Mi Mi Mi


Good news for me. Not such good news for those around me. More research results point to the benefits of singing for those with Parkinson’s Disease. This echoes back to a blog I published two years ago – Helpless, Helpless, Helpless, Helpless (reproduced below). The latest study results you can find here.

I’ve always seemed to have a penchant for musicians with voices that have some character – the quivery Neil Young, the droning Leonard Cohen, the gravelly Lucinda Williams or Tom Waits, the nasal Bob Dylan, the symphonic Rufus Wainwright, the piercing Iris DeMent or the multi-layered Joni Mitchell.

I have, at one time or another, in both public and private settings, attempted to sing along to all of these artists (and many more) with a remarkable consistency. Bad (and that’s not a Michael Jackson bad). Off-key. Somewhat out of step. Just bad.

Nonetheless, this hasn’t deterred me. Whenever I hear a tune I particularly love (and there are many),  I am ready to belt it out and sing along. Without hesitation. Yet, as my children have grown older, public “performances” have been virtually eliminated due to their collective embarrassment while private performances are on a steady decline. I just don’t have the gift of a golden voice I guess – and my children are quick to remind me. Perhaps this explains why I have been drawn to such artists – their “savoury” voices are a good camouflage to my vocal prowess.

Now, I could blame this all on Parkinson’s Disease. Since being diagnosed 15 years ago, my voice has definitely weakened. I speak softer and am frequently being asked to not mumble or repeat what I have said. I cannot project my voice in any kind of crowd without amplification. I speak in more condensed sentences and often with pauses that I believe are sometimes physiological and other times cognitively generated. My mouth dries out constantly from the medications I am on.

This might be a familiar refrain to some. You may have heard the story of a brilliant singer whose career was tragically struck short by PD. After repeated commercial success and mercurial rise in the pop charts, this singer was silenced by Parkinson’s. That’s Linda Ronstadt’s story though. Not mine. I was never that blessed with musical talent.

Instead, I have been blessed with a deep appreciation for those with such talent. A joyfullness that comes from singing along to a favorite tune. An appreciation for healthy vocal chords. And a certain degree of vulnerability that still allows me – nay, requires me – to join in whenever I hear Neil sing….

Big birds flying across the sky,
Throwing shadows on our eyes.
Leave us…



(originally published August 17, 2015)


one shot


I heard that Sidney Crosby and the Stanley Cup returned to Canada today and it brought back memories of the very first time  he brought the cup home. Parkinson’s Disease and Stanley Cup parades don’t often come together but they did for this story I wrote in October 2009 (a shortened version appeared in the Globe and Mail that same year).

One shot. We’d settle for one shot. Just one highly unlikely, virtually impossible, but still-have-a-chance shot. After trekking 1200 kilometers, with 5 kids in tow, surely we were deserving of at least one shot.

That spring, we had watched every thrilling moment of the Penguins quest for the Stanley Cup that culminated in a victorious lap around the ice by none other than Canada’s own Sidney Crosby. The youngest captain of any Stanley Cup team to ever hoist the Cup up high! He would raise it once more that year in the small town of Cole Harbour, NS to celebrate his 22nd birthday and share the Cup with his hometown.

My eight year old son, who had just began his “hockey career”, was a very big fan of Sidney and as organizers of the event began to release details, we made our plans to be there accordingly. This was a chance to see Sidney Crosby in person and a special bonus that drew us in. There would be posters of Sidney available for $10 and with each poster you bought, you would receive one ballot for a chance to be 1 of 87 people to have your picture taken with Sidney and the Cup. No autographs mind you. But a picture of you with Sidney! My son’s enthusiasm grew as did the list of people he would buy posters for to increase his chances of being one of those lucky 87. We’d buy 8, maybe 9 posters. That would be 8 or 9 ballots. Not bad chance we thought.

As the days grew closer, estimates of the crowd drew larger – 10,000 – no 20,000 – no 40,000 people expected to be there! In little Cole Harbour?! We had our doubts but we decided to get there early all the same. We dutifully heeded all warnings not to drive to Cole Harbour and face traffic chaos and lined up to take a shuttle bus from Halifax 4 hours prior to the event. Two hours later, we boarded a bus and arrived soon thereafter well in advance of the start of the parade. Already there was a fair size crowd and we could see a spattering of posters rolled up amongst the crowd. I enquired with the staff where I could purchase these posters and our coveted ballots. “Oh, none left. Sorry, we sold out”.

Sold out? Why it was almost 2 hours before the event was to begin and they were sold out?? My heart sank. My son’s heart sank further still. We stood there motionless while more people continued to stream into the park. We had not one ballot. Not one shot.

How was I to console my son? There was no way now that he would get a chance to meet Sidney. With the crowd so deep he might not even get a chance to see him. Sporting his #87 Penguins jersey he looked to me for an answer “What are we going to do now Dad?”

A father does not always have the answers. Nor does he always have a plan. I had neither but fell back onto a well-worn phrase to buy me time. “Well just have to wait and see” I said. “I’ll be right back”. I left him and my family and walked away not really knowing where I was going. As I walked along the street lined 10-15 rows deep with people I wondered if perhaps, during the frenzy of Sidney’s arrival with the Cup, someone along the 4 km. route might inadvertently rise up to greet Sidney and in their ecstatic glee somehow “drop” their ballot and I would swoop down and grab it and benefit from their misfortune. That would be it – our ticket – our shot (albeit one tainted by someone else’s loss).

That was how I envisioned it. That was my back-up plan. Yet, as a 50+ year old man with Parkinson’s, I don’t do too much walking and I never swoop at anything. Still that was the best I could do and off I hobbled to the start of the parade route. As I drew closer, the sound of bagpipes heralded the start of the parade. First, the mayor’s car. Then the local beauty queen. A radio DJ in another car. A teammate of Crosby’s in another car. And then, atop a big red fire engine – Sidney and the Cup! My plan of action was set. And so it began. I walked alongside the firetruck, looking up at Sidney and down at the ground as people rose to their feet. Back at Sidney. Back to the ground. Sidney. The ground. Sidney. Ground. All the while, my Parkinson’s exaggerated movements – flailing arms, somewhat gaited walk and blank stare – were accentuated.. After several minutes, I noticed the presence of security guards – on and around the firetruck – each of whom were looking at me and speaking into concealed microphones. A policeman on a motorcycle drew ever closer and did the same. Was I stalking Sidney? Was I a threat to be diffused? Was I about to try some horrendous extortion of the Cup?? That, combined with the hands of all those in the crowd that held firmly onto their ballot, suggested that perhaps I’d better move along faster and rejoin my family. Dejected, but not arrested.

As I tried to return to the centre where I’d left my family, the sea of people had now turned into a tsunami. I waded through the crowd to get back to the centre but along the way, I noticed that behind the main stage, there were trucks loaded with TV gear, moving vans, security guards, storage containers. But virtually no people. From here, at least we would get a glimpse of Sidney – or at least the back of his head. That was about the best we could hope for. I recovered my family and proudly showed them the spot I had discovered. They weren’t impressed. From our vantage point, if you strained your neck, you could see the side of the stage that had been fenced off for Sidney to enter. Collectively, we strained our necks and waited for his arrival.

First came the mayor. The beauty queen. The others. Each stopping at the side and disembarking. Then came the clang of the fire bell. Sidney was coming! As the truck approached the stage, we gave our necks one last good stretch and readied for it to stop. But it didn’t. It kept going. Past the side of the stage. Right around to the middle of the back of the stage. Right in front of us!!

This was it. Our one shot. “GO” we shouted in unison to my son. Urging him to cross the security line and head for the firetruck to greet it’s descending member. “GO!!” “STOP. BEHIND THE LINE” retorted the security guard. As we pulled back our dejected son, another more severe breech of security broke out further down the line and guards left their post to assist.

“GO. GO.” we again urged. My son, jersey in hand, rushed directly in to the firetruck just as Sidney descended the stairs. “Happy Birthday Sidney! Would you sign my jersey?” he enquired and passed him the pen. They conferred over where he was to sign it and on the number 7 he did. Lucky number 7. My son’s hockey number. He had it. We had it. Our one shot. Scored!