18th May 2021
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Paul Harvey: The Four Notes Composer With A Number 1 Single

Paul Harvey The Four Notes Composer With A Number 1 Single
By Michelle Sciarrotta

Paul Harvey has taken the number 1 slot on iTunes and Amazon in a heartwarming story that has gone viral, highlighting dementia and the power of music. The 80 year old piano composer and music teacher who suffers from Alzheimers has had a busy few weeks thanks to a series of positive events.

The Single

Musician Paul Harvey has remained a strong improviser despite his dementia, and this latest musical journey started after Paul’s son Nick gave him four notes as a starting point to prompt an improvisation exercise (the notes were F, A, D, B). Nick recorded Paul’s improvisation at the piano and shared it on Twitter. The video started to spread, and from here it reached BBC Radio 4 thanks to Paddy O’Connell, who played the piece on his show to mark World Alzheimer’s Day on 21st September. After a great reception from listeners encouraging the BBC to do more with the music, O’Connell reached out to the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and asked them to get involved.

Daniel Whibley from the orchestra arranged the piece, and the musicians from the orchestra then recorded themselves remotely playing along with the original video of Paul, due to the ongoing pandemic restrictions in the UK. The individual parts were professionally mixed with the piano to create the single in this unique collaboration. Proceeds from the single “Four Notes – Paul’s Tune” are going to both the Alzheimer’s Society and Music for Dementia, who campaign for people with dementia to have free access to music included in their care. Grace Meadows, Programme Director for Music for Dementia, said:

“We are so honoured to be a part of this exceptional endeavour and delighted that Paul and Nick have chosen us in this way. It is extraordinary how Paul’s prodigious talent is still so evident. This is a remarkable example of the power of music for people living with dementia and why we believe music should be part of dementia care.”

Paul’s son Nick, who is also a musician and composes for television explains on the Music For Dementia website:

“Improvising seems to free Dad from the constraints of having to remember. If I sense him drifting away or becoming distant, I will ask him to play or improvise and generally that connects him again not just with me but with the world. I’ll also play music that resonates with him, such as a Stephen Sondheim recording. The therapeutic power of music – it’s the one tool guaranteed to bring him back to reality 99% of the time.”

Stephen Sondheim

As if the song going viral, the BBC Philharmonic collaboration and subsequent topping of the charts wasn’t enough, Stephen Sondheim then got in touch with Paul. Sondheim is Paul Harvey’s favourite composer, and upon hearing the story and the piece, he reached out to congratulate Harvey on his success in a touching message. Thanks to the involvement of the BBC who got involved, they surprised Paul with the full orchestral arrangement of his piece, and with Sondheim’s congratulations, where he said:

“Hello Mr Harvey, this is Stephen Sondheim, and I just wanted to thank you so much for the compliments you gave me, and also thank you for that lovely tune that you invented, which I can’t wait to steal.”

Paul was visibly moved by the whole experience, and poignantly reflected on the whole experience by saying,

“Wow. I won’t forget that. That was very wonderfully special.”

You can experience the highlights from all of this heartwarming story on video here.

Also by Michelle Sciarrotta:

Cahoots NI: Interview With An Innovative Children’s Theatre Company

Accessibility At The Smith Center Series: Part One

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