The Hippo


Oct 14, 2019








MCS Choral Director Dr. Daniel Perkins, Peggy Johnson and Dr. Jonathan C. Santore. Bradford Dumont photo.

“Learning to Fall”

Creative Conversations pre-concert event: Monday, May 16, from 5 to 7 p.m., at St. Catherine of Siena Parish, 207 Hemlock St., Manchester, free, space limited; composer Jonathan Santore and poet Peggy Johnson will discuss their inspiration and intent behind the music, “Requiem: Learning to Fall;” local visual artist and educator Nanette Constant designed a glass mosaic to reflect the book, Learning to Fall, and participants can work with the artist to make this project, which will be raffled off at the concert; proceeds benefit the ALS Association.
Concert: Ste. Marie Parish, 378 Notre Dame Ave., Manchester, Saturday, May 21, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, May 22, at 3 p.m., conducted by Dan Perkins, featuring mezzo-soprano Emily Jaworski and baritone Steven Small, $25
Donations:, search for Manchester Choral Society
Contact: 472-6627,, email to register for the May 16 event

Learning to fall
Manchester Choral Society performs new work inspired by ALS

By Kelly Sennott

 The first signal something was wrong with David Publow was his voice.

He could still carry a tune while performing with the Manchester Choral Society last summer, but he was having vocal irritation, breaking out in coughs. Maybe allergies, he thought, but his doctor saw no vocal cord issues and suggested he see a neurologist.
Publow, an orthopedic surgeon until his 2011 retirement, decided to conduct his own research and came across the possibility of ALS. He considered his symptoms.
“To make the diagnosis, you have to have upper motor neuron symptoms and lower motor neuron symptoms. The upper motor neuron symptoms include trouble with your voice, swallowing, breathing. I thought, ‘OK, I’m having that.’ Lower neuron symptoms include weakness in the arms and legs. I work out and I’m in good shape, and I thought, ‘I don’t have anything like that,’” he said.
Then he remembered his difficulty using nail clippers. Publow looked at his hands with the eye of an orthopedic surgeon and saw the muscles were smaller than they should be. 
His suspicions were confirmed at his neurologist appointment this past fall. 
Publow and his wife Johanna dropped out of the chorus just before its December concert after more than 30 years with the group. Singing had become even more difficult, and Publow was constantly out of breath at rehearsals. But in January, the couple came back.
“As I got into dealing with ALS and getting advice, we just decided, we’re going to go ahead and live our lives as fully as we can as long as we can,” he said. “Singing brings me joy. And so we went back ... to sing ‘Requiem.’”
Maurice Duruflé’s Gregorian chant-inspired “Requiem,” part of a five-year Masterworks Series, had been planned for MCS’s spring 2016 program for ages. But more recently, MCS Musical Director Dan Perkins added New Hampshire composer Jonathan Santore’s “Requiem: Learning to Fall” to the spring concert. The addition is a world premiere, commissioned by the Yeoman’s Fund for the Arts. The singers knew nothing about it.
“Nobody had a clue it had anything to do with ALS,” Publow said. 
Concert origins
Santore’s “Requiem: Learning to Fall” contains universal themes, but its making has a great deal to do with ALS.
Its text is inspired by Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life, a book of 12 essays by English teacher, inspirational speaker and music-lover Philip Simmons. The book meditates on life, death and ALS, which Simmons was diagnosed with at age 35 and died of in 2002.
Simmons was the founder of the Yeoman’s Fund for the Arts, based in Tamworth, which commissions art for the area. YFA President Peggy Johnson and Simmons were close friends. They had kids the same age, and after he was diagnosed, she became a caregiver and fellow reader when he spoke at churches and events.
“I would drive him to places where he was a speaker, and it soon became clear he couldn’t read an entire essay — he had to breathe some and recover. We would take turns reading his essays,” Johnson said.
About five years ago, the YFA decided to commission a requiem — a eucharistic service in the Roman Catholic church to remember someone who has died — that included words by Simmons, who had always been fond of the Requiem Mass. Johnson got started with the text by re-reading Learning to Fall and translating those stories into music-ready poetry. 
After many attempts to pull the event together internally, the YFA decided to look outside the organization about a year ago and enlisted the help of Santore and Perkins, both professors at Plymouth State. Perkins, of course, had already been planning to perform “Requiem” with the MCS this spring.
Come August, the project was rolling. Santore read Learning to Fall and kept Johnson’s poetry in his pocket, reading her words over and over, throughout the autumn, and began writing soon after. In February, he began sending “Requiem: Learning to Fall” to Perkins in waves — which is when the MCS learned about the stories and themes behind this spring’s concert.
Learning to fall
The spring concert music speaks to Publow’s experience — particularly the idea of learning to fall, learning to die.
“[ALS] is a disease where everybody does fall. There’s no cure or treatment. So it’s something you have to get used to,” Publow said.“[ALS] affects something like one out of every 200,000 people. … I think people are becoming aware that ... it’s a fatal disease and has no known cause or treatment, let alone cure. And that is unique. Even with the most awful cancers, most of them have treatments of some kind. … There is nothing for ALS except to learn to fall.”
And every day with ALS, he said, there’s a little bit of falling.Your shirt becomes too difficult to button yourself, your shoes too difficult to tie. But Publow and his wife keep singing. He uses a voice amplifier and can still hit the low and high notes.
“It’s in the middle where I sound like a 13-year-old on hormones!” Publow said. “It’s obviously been very emotional for me and my wife. But helpful too. It’s music that deals with the emotions you feel. And singing, although I am not as good as I used to be, I can still carry a tune and contribute. It’s a very loving group for both of us.”
MCS, he said, is made up of “everyone from high school kids to old people,” and at 76, Publow said he’s now one of those old people. He and his wife joined MCS in 1985, and together, they’ve performed in Israel, China, South America and most of Europe. Fellow chorus members empathize, and some of them understand. One fellow MCS member lost a sister to ALS, another a friend. 
“I get more hugs than you can imagine,” Publow said. 
One last-minute addition to the program is “Forgetting,” a short piece with music by Santore and lyrics by Jane Babin, a former attorney and Plymouth State professor who was diagnosed with ALS in 2004 and died in 2015. She was an advocate for patients’ rights, and in 2007 published Pearls in the Pond, a collection of poems. A year later, Santore, a good friend of Babin’s, sent one of those poems, “Forgetting,” to music and Perkins produced it with the Plymouth State Chamber Singers.
“It’s about someone basically saying goodbye, that you’ll forget me, but every once in a while, something will remind you of me. It’s pretty poignant stuff,” Publow said.
The singers and musicians say the concert isn’t really about ALS — it’s about living in the moment.
“It’s a really beautiful concert. It’s uplifting. It’s not a sad story,” Publow said. “It will help lift everyone’s spirit to come and hear this kind of music.” 

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