Louise Manoogian Simone (1941-2019)

She has been called a civic leader, a philanthropist, businesswoman, patron of the arts and devoted to preserving the Armenian culture.


Louise Manoogian Simone (Photo courtesy of AGBU)

Louise Manoogian Simone, daughter of the late Alex and Marie Manoogian has passed away at the age of 85. Her father was the inventor of the Delta faucet and led Masco for several years. The Manoogian name and their contributions will live on for decades. The list of accomplishments and how they helped both the Armenian and American community is endless.

Simone followed in her father’s footsteps by leading the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) for several decades. Retiring from the AGBU in 2002, her involvement in the organization has left an indelible mark on the Armenian community.

Through the Manoogian Simone Foundation, millions have been funneled back into the Armenian community. Not only the Armenian community, but the arts community.

I never personally met Ms. Simone, but I was on a recipient of her generosity over the years. When Andrew Goldberg produced the documentary “The Armenian Americans”, she contributed significant funds to make the documentary a reality. She flew myself and few Armenian musician Dick Barsamian out to New York to film us perform Armenian music for the documentary. The second time was when I produced the CD: George Mgrdichian, American Oud Master. Simone was very selective in the books and musical selections she would feature in her AGBU magazine. She was an avid fan of George’s playing and was more than happy to help sell copies of the CD in her bookstore.

Simone was also a great benefactor to American Universities, Museums and cultural institutions, including the University of Michigan, Wayne State University and the Detroit Institute of Arts. She received many honors throughout her life, among them the Ellis Island Medal Of Honor.

She is survived by a brother, three children and two grandchildren.

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Chick: The Blue Collar Musician

As I was growing up listening to Armenian music, there were different groups of instrumentalist musicians that I was aware of that played folk music. One of those groups of musicians were oud players. As far as I was concerned, there were only four Armenian oud players – George Mgrdichian, John Berberian, Harry Minassian and Richard Hagopian. Simply put, they were the only artists that I had recordings available in my house. Little did I know this was the tip of the iceberg of oud players that played and preserved Armenian and Middle Eastern music. The list, albeit too exhaustive to list here, included many of the “masters” that set the course for all the other oud players, including present day musicians.  As I grew older and as I listened to more music I discovered more musicians that played the oud.

Probably a major reason I was unaware of these artists surrounded the fact that recordings were limited in their commercial availability. As I began to collect LP and 78rpm recordings, I discovered more musicians. All too often I would scout out other recording’s of that particular musician because I couldn’t get enough of their performances. Many of those “finds” ended up being field recordings that someone recorded off the stage. To me, these are truly some of the best ways to hear musicians – in their element, playing for an audience and not scripted like most professional recordings are done.


Chick Ganimian at Newport Jazz Festival in 1967. 

One of those Armenian musicians was Charles Ganimian, always referred to as Chick. He was a unique musician they’ve had a signature style of playing the oud but was also known for who singing talents. He did not have the smooth voice like Frank Sinatra, but he created a tone and style which was rarely duplicated. His voice has been described as “unpolished” or “husky”. Probably the only musician I know they came close to his style is present day oud player, Dick Barsamian. Dick would often sing a number of songs associated with Chick’s repertoire.

I don’t recall ever seeing Chick perform live although it’s very possible as a child as I traveled with my parents to different Armenian weekends out east and Chick may have been performing on stage. However, I grew interested in knowing more about this musician. Especially as I heard that he performed with other musicians I was keenly aware of and didn’t realize their connection to Chick.

Over the years, very little has been written about Chick’s life and the recordings of his playing oud are limited to some of the below recorded from around 1959-1975.

The Great Hudson River Revival Volume I (Guest performer)
The Exciting Music of The Nor-ikes  ‎(Nor-Ikes)
Daddy Lolo (Oriental Rock And Roll)/Halvah 45rpm
Heddy Lou 45rpm
Come with Me to the Casbah (Ganimian & His Orientals) LP & 45rpm
The Wailing Dervishes (Herbie Mann)
Impressions of the Middle East (Herbie Mann)

IMG_2008At a certain point I felt (as a record producer) that it would be great to pay homage to Chick by releasing some type of recording that featured his musicianship. As I mentioned earlier, he had few recordings ever released, but he was recorded live in different settings. Nightclub surroundings and festivals were Chick’s playground. In 1999, I released Chick Ganimian LIVE, which was a field recording of Chick that included Armenian musicians: Haig Hagopian (clarinet), Jack Chalikian (kanun), Roger Krikorian (dumbeg), Ken Kalajian (guitar), Chris Marashlian (bass) and Paul Mooradian (tambourine). This was recorded live on July 3, 1978 at the Sheraton Regal Hotel in Hyannis, Massachusetts by musician and recording engineer Leon Janikian. The July 4th “Kef” (party) weekends were very popular for over thirty years and organized by Charlie Krikorian. It was the first time in decades that a recording featuring Chick’s music was released to the public.

CG“Let me confess that I’m biased about this unknown genius and his virtuosity on the oud. I was playing clarinet with him for years and played on this job. He was the finest musician for belly-dancers. If you like Middle Eastern music, you’ll love this CD” said in 2015 by the late Haig Hagopian referring to the release of this CD. As the record producer of this compilation, I must admit that it doesn’t provide the full breadth of Chick’s work but it does provide a good example of his playing abilities in front of a live audience with some of his signature songs such as Efem, Canakalle Icinde, and Halvaci Halva.

Chick was born in 1926 in Troy, New York. Music was part of his life at a youthful age. He began on the violin but was convinced that this was not the instrument he would be drawn to in the future.

When he was ten years old a 4th of July fireworks accident injured his right eye. Surgery helped correct the problem, but for the rest of his life, it would occasional wander.

His musical inspiration came from his father as well as Oudi Hrant Kenkulian. “He’s so great that he’s just known as Udi Hrant” said Ganimian.

Perhaps one of the reasons Chick doesn’t appear on many LP recordings is that he detested the commercialization of the music he dearly loved. He refused recording offers as he felt the sound engineers could never record or present (or respect) his music properly to the public.

Arno Karlen, an American poet and was Senior Editor of Holiday magazine in the 1960s had this to say about Chick’s playing after watching him perform for the first time a Cafe’ Feenjon that was a popular nightclub in Greenwich Village, New York City.

His face and voice are tense with the feeling of the song, but his left hand, as though belonging to someone else, works intricately on the short, unfretted fingerboard, drawing from the oud an accompaniment of runs and glissandi, a silver ribbon that twists, hesitates, turns shyly toward the quarter tone above or below, trembles, turns back again, glides on.


George Mgrdichian (l), Chick Ganimian (r) Photo courtesy of Jack Chalikian

After doing a stint in the US Army in the mid-1940s, Chick formed his first ensemble called the Nor-Ikes. The band’s name means “New Sunrise” in Armenian, a suggestion by one of the musicians father. was suggested by Souren Baronian’s father and means “new dawn” in Armenian. The Nor-Ikes performed throughout the eastern region of the US and this exposed Chick to a greater audience.

He regularly appeared at many well-known clubs throughout the east coast including the Fennimore Hotel, Catskill’s Shady Hill Lodge, Providence’s Seventh Veil, Boston’s Club Zahra, Grecian Palace, Port Said, Cafe Feenjon, and the Roundtable. From 1960-1969, Chick was a fixture at the Roundtable. He not only headlined at this nightclub, but was in charge of the music and hiring of musicians to perform there. Known for his intensity on stage, he demanded and expected musicians and dancers to perform with perfection. I have been often told that you did not want to get on the wrong side of Chick when playing music. A hint of his working style as well as his frustrations for musicians dancers is evident in Karlen’s article. “Like many first-rate artists, Chick is like a light with a fixed pinpoint focus. Anything that is artistically foreign or offensive to him rouses him to instant, puritanical anger.”


The Nor-Ike’s LP released in 1975. 

From the early 1960s to mid-1970s, Chick was in his prime. Although he was trained to be a butcher, he made his living playing music.

In the late 1990s, I had the opportunity to meet and interview the great jazz musician Herbie Mann. He was performing at a concert nearby and I reached out to him to see if he would be willing to meet me and discuss Chick and recording two Middle Eastern-Jazz albums. He was intrigued that I was aware of these albums and so he was willing to meet me. We had lunch and we discussed his musical career and the vast amount of sidemen he performed with during his career. When I asked him about his memories of Chick, he was clear in his recollection. “When I was interested in Middle Eastern music, I wanted to find someone with knowledge of that genre but had a taste for jazz music. I was told about his Armenian oud player in New York City and I saw him perform live at one of the clubs and knew he was the musician I was looking for. Chick’s playing filled that magical combination” said Mann.

Chick would make two albums with Herbie Mann during a time when Middle Eastern was a hot commodity for record buyers. The popularity of Zorba The Greek, Topkapi and others coupled with the vibrant nightclub action of New York had everyone interested in the exotic sounds of the Middle East. Unfortunately, the Bossa Nova sound was on the heals of Middle Eastern music and thus Herbie Mann as well as mainly mainstream jazz artists as well as record producers shifted into the new sound.

In the few records Chick did make, one of them was called Come with me to the Casbah for Atlantic Records in 1959 and produced by Nesuhi and Ahmet Ertegün, brothers that owned the record label. “Chick Ganimian was a rare musician who was a master of both the authentic Middle Eastern music and of the Western Jazz mode. Chick, like many of his Armenian antecedents was a superior interpreter of Middle Eastern music” said Ahmet Ertegün.

Chick was the working man’s working musician. The title of this article refers to Chick as a blue collared musician and that isn’t meant to be derogatory. In every conversation I had with friends and fellow musicians that performed with Chick, he worked for everything he obtained and at times it wasn’t easy. Living as a musician is hard enough, living it as an Armenian oud player performing in clubs is a hard life to lead and difficult to be successful in.  Your surroundings can be “interesting” at best and he performed until the early hours of the morning. Certainly alcohol could enter your life in this environment and whereas Chick avoided the drug elements, he couldn’t escape from the alcohol. While he continued to enjoy an active musical career throughout the 1970s, his health deteriorated in the 1980s.  He passed away in December, 1988 leaving a rich legacy of music that will hopefully never be forgotten.





Footnote:  Special thanks to friend Mal Barsamian for sharing the YouTube concert that included a youthful Chick Ganimian with Herbie Mann from 1967. It sparked the genesis of this story. I had always felt that there was not a lot written or preserved about Chick nor was his music widely available when I released the CD back over twenty years ago. The liner notes for this album were limited as due to budget at that time as well as difficulty in obtaining information as this was “pre-Google” where finding information was by phone or letter. I even recall getting a fax on one of the quotations that I used in the CD liner notes. 

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Amer-abic Percussionist Remembered: Eddie “the Sheik” Kochak

2018 marked the end of another legendary icon of Middle Eastern music in America, his name was Eddie “the Sheik” Kochak. He was 97 years old.


Eddie Kochak’s orchestra at the Bossert Hotel, 1948

Another way to describe Kochak would be to refer to him as a personality. This by no means is meant to be derogatory, it is an extreme compliment. He performed for nearly 70 years and made over 100 recordings during his lifetime. Kochak, like many of his musical peers, elevated traditional Middle Eastern music and kept it alive for decades. He popularized the Arabic dabke Musicians like Mike Sarkissian, his brother Buddy, Fred Elias and many more helped popularize the music which kept it fresh, plentiful and enjoyable for listeners.


Kochak with his musical partner Hakki Obadia, a well-known violinist and oudist that performed and recorded with Kochak for many years. 

To be a personality, you have to have a bit of charisma and ability to brand and market yourself, Kochak was such a person.

Kochak was born Eddie Soubhi Kochakji in Brooklyn, New York. One of six children, Eddie’s parents immigrated to America from Syria.

As a child, Eddie had a deep passion for music and gravitated toward percussion instruments. “Well, I was breaking too many pots and pans. My mother’s pots and pans were getting scarce! And they all saw that I had the feeling in me, that I was gifted with music and tempos. So my sister went out on my birthday and bought me a dumbek” said Kochak in a 2001 interview. I was about twelve years old.” , he studied with one of New York’s top percussionists at the time, Henry Adler.

Eventually Eddie entered the U.S. Army  where he toured with special services performing in the USO shows in Europe and the Middle East. The title “the Sheik” came from those military days as his Sergeant had difficulty saying Kochakji and coined the name “the Sheik”.

48381985_2206976726183528_3122759777621377024_nHe played the Green Grove Manor in Asbury Park, New Jersey for a decade as well as at Philharmonic Hall, Lincoln Center, and Town Hall in New York City. Kochak has been credited for his comedic talent, fine support with the dirbakee (Arabic tom-tom), and resurrecting the debke, native dance of the Middle East. He had long associations with Dean Martin and Danny Thomas (Thomas and Kochak are both of Lebanese extraction). For decades, as a maker and producer of records, not to mention live performances, he ruled the Brooklyn and to a lesser extent the New England “Mecca East” scenes. In the 1980s he played the percussion for Anthony Quinn in the Broadway production of “Zorba.” In the twenty-first century the Sheik has conducted musicians and dancers on stage at an Atlantic Avenue festival in Brooklyn.


Oudist Scott Wilson with Kochak in 2012. Photo by Sharon Stapf

Maurice Sedacca and I had the honor of performing with Eddie throughout the 80s and 90s, Maurice on guitar, me on oud, Eddie on dumbek and singing, for parties, birthdays , shows etc. Eddie, in his sense of humor, would always say to us at some point “You guys are great, when do you leave!” Eddie’s songs were often about pashas, harems, desert Oàsis, caravans, camels at a time when the mid-east was a mystical picturesque land, not what the present day unfortunate reality is. His original songs from the 40s, 50s and 60s used simple popular Lebanese melodies with his English lyrics. He would in intersperse little chants in Arabic with call and response from the audience. “Ya Habibi🎶”, audience would respond – “Ya Habibi🎶!” Eddie often would say in his routine, pretending he’s had enough “And the show goes on and on…and on and on…and on and on! Unlike some musicians who see themselves as “serious” concert artists who disdained playing for belly dancers as beneath them, Eddie loved performing with dancers, and did popular call and response drum solos with them”. – Scott Wilson, oudist.

Kochak was revered by belly dancers from around the globe and his music is still available and utilized for dancers to this day. His list of achievements including touring with Anthony Quinn in 1983 for the Broadway revival of Zorba, The Greek and performing for celebrities like Dean martin and Danny Thomas. His discography is one of the largest of Middle Eastern musicians in America. He truly left behind a legacy.

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His name was George Righellis


Harry Minassian, Fred Elias, George, Gary Alexanian

My name is George and I never sing
about the bitter-sweet issue of love
I’m not used in rending daisies,
I don’t wait for anyone’s comeback

These are the lyrics to Me Lene Giorgo, a song that George Righellis made very popular amongst the Armenian and Greek communities from the New England area to Detroit to California. It is probably the one song that I identify and think of whenever I hear or speak of guitarist George Righellis.


Manos Koutsangelidis and George when they met in November, 2018

Toward the end of 2018, the musical world said goodbye to George who passed away after a lengthy and heroic battle against cancer. Even knowing his ultimate fate, he was still sharing his love of music with the world and connecting with the online community posting vintage photos and live music tracks from his musical heyday. He outlived the medical expectations by several months allowing George to not only share his music but to be appreciated for the years he dedicated to playing Armenian, Greek and Middle Eastern music. Less than a month prior to his death, George even met an admirer from Greece, the talented Greek kanunist and vocalist Manos Koutsangelidis. George was so touched by his playing that one of the last posts he made on Facebook was to Manos. “Manos I miss you already. You are one of the best musicians I have ever played with and hope to be with you again on stage…”

GR5“George Righellis was full of life, and full of music. He always light up the room whenever he performed. He loved both Greek and Armenian music, but told me once in an interview that he always gravitated more toward Armenian music. He was such an inspiration to so many of us, and he will be very much missed.” said Meleti Pouliopoulos, Historian for Greek Cultural Resources.

By right, George should be credited for being one of the first guitarists to introduce the instrument to Middle Eastern music. The guitar along with the dumbeg or drums provided a “wall of sound” of rhythm for the other musicians and gave it the “kef” (party) sounds we have all grown to love.

I talked to a few musicians that knew George very well and had performed with him and they had this to say about him:

“I have had many occasions to play music with George. All of them fun filled and musically rewarding. But although from Massachusetts, George represented a special place in the music of the New York City area as well, unbeknownst to him personally. George was the first musician that I heard using the guitar in our Armenian music back in the early 60s. I loved the sound that was created by the threesome Harry, Gary and George. (Harry Minassian, Gary Alexanian and George Righellis) in New England kef music. In 1962, and for the first time in New York, I started using the guitar in my group and in Armenian music. So the sound that George influenced in New England acted as a catalyst for me and for Armenian music in New York”. John Berberian, Armenian oudist

“I first met George around 1970 — Eddie Mekjian produced two albums: Road to Harpoot and Greece after Sunset featuring George. I heard those albums and I was fascinated with the fullness of his guitar. Why was it so full from an acoustic guitar? The recording on that album stood out tremendously with the sound of George. I think he was the best guitarist for Armenian music and he blended perfectly with the bands. George was the first to introduce the guitar to Armenian music. The Armenian bands starting using guitar back in the 1950s by hiring Greek musicians. That’s why a lot of Armenian musicians have a extensive Greek repertoire in there material. The legacy George left is that he inspired a lot of the younger Armenian guitar players such as myself.  I would copy every run and chord changes that he would do in a particular piece. I started playing with George at the Athenian Corner Restaurant in


George with his uncle Kosta Kamanis at the Averof Restaurant in Massachusetts.

Lowell , MA. He had his D28 Martin Guitar plugged into a B12X Ampeg Portoflex amplifier, and he sounded like he did on the records. A lot of his material he learned from his uncle Kostas Kamanis a great oud player and entertainer. He idolized him tremendously. They played every Sunday afternoon at the Averof Restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts”.Mal Barsamian, Armenian musical (clarinet, oud, sax, guitar) virtuoso

Discography of George Righellis

Music of the Bedouin Bandits – Fuad Hassan Ensemble (RCA Victor LSP-1991) (1959)
Near East Enchantments – Harry Minassian (Mark Records)
Interlude with The Orientals (Soundcraft Associates SA-242)
Next Stop… Near East – George Chakoian’s New England Ararat Orchestra
(ARA S1005)
Kef Time Hartford (Saha Records)
Crossroads with the Vanites Band (Worcester/Whitinsville Armenian Band)
Harpoot to Istanbul – Eddie Mekjian and Ensemble
(NILE NLPS-1003)
Greece After Sunset – George Righellis (NILE NLPS-1004)(1971)
The Seventh Veil -Eddie Mekjian and Ensemble (Fiesta FLPS-1599)
HOSSEH! – Richie Berberian Ensemble (IAN Records)

Special thanks to Meleti, Mal and John for their contributions to this tribute story. 

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Hello, 2019

FatherTime.jpgIt was inevitable
You and I knew it wouldn’t last
No matter how much we try to defy the odds, there is always still much more to grasp

I think we gave it a really good run
Much to be thankful for
Our adventures moved steadily around the sun

Along the way we experienced sadness and joy
Focusing on the positive and what we have
Makes more sense than carrying the negative burden like a heavy hoy

I am not much of a poet as you have surmised, it does however help in reflecting on the past year. We all think the same way when it comes down to the wire – the end of a year and we say the same thing “it goes too fast”.

We make resolutions about weight, work, family and finances. In the end, it makes more sense on how we live our lives and enjoy all of what we have. Yes, count your blessing, another coined phrase but one that should ring true for all of us.

I want to thank all of you that continue to support my musical efforts both near and far and I am looking forward to another good year of health, happiness for 2019.

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Taqs.im creates community for musicians

43390572_344771759417053_4550508444133621760_nSeveral years before social media became a household word, if you wanted to communicate in a collective group across the globe and share ideas, thoughts or questions you either created email groups or listserv forums. About twenty years or so ago, I attempted to have such a group for Armenian and Middle Eastern musicians to come together in a camaraderie-type atmosphere and stay connected. The idea was a good one (in my humble opinion), but the because none of the internet was mainly used for emails and “surfing” the web, the group never caught on. Several years later and with greater technology at our fingertips, two young Armenian musicians and good friends developed a website with the goal to not only connect with other musicians but share their knowledge and enthusiasm. Their website is called taqs.im


Antranig Kzirian

Antranig Kzirian and Aram Hovagimian are the musicians behind this new online “community” and I had a chance to interview them and have them share with our readers their inspirations and desires behind putting this community together.

Why did you develop taqs.im? What do you hope to accomplish with the creation of this website?
It started with a discussion at the Philadelphia Armenian Youth Federation Olympic Weekend (September, 2018) where I was talking about producing oud instructional videos to potentially take the place of in-person lessons, while simultaneously Aram was looking for a medium through which he could provide synthetic keyboard sound samples online. Given all our experience and history performing, recording and playing middle eastern music, we decided to put our heads together and developed the concept for TAQS.IM – but we wanted to take things even further than just lessons or sounds because we wanted to provide a dynamic, diverse and versatile forum for exploring middle eastern music through modern means of an online presence, compatibility with mobile devices, video-based content and a robust social media presence. With that said, our objective is for TAQS.IM to be a comprehensive, and fluid, collection of clean, well produced and properly organized resources and information – just to list a few of our offerings, we offer a unique mobile device app, a free radio station featuring some of the most prominent and influential middle eastern artists, professionally produced instructional instrument-specific videos, thoughtful and informative podcasts, compelling artist guest features, cutting edge original synthetic keyboard sound samples, and generally speaking, a broad presence across various platforms and formats – some of the above is already available, and the rest is in the works and will be launched very soon (in a matter of weeks, if not sooner). Overall, I’d say we especially wish to provide musicians and aficionados the guidance and resources to learn and discover for themselves without feeling lost, intimidated or overwhelmed. The hope is for TAQS.IM to be the go to source and one stop shop for people all over the world who want to learn about middle eastern music, who didn’t necessarily grow up surrounded by a middle eastern music scene or network in their respective communities.

How did you come up with the name?
TAQS.IM is based off the well known middle eastern term “taksim” or “taqsim” (excuse the transliteration :)) which in musical terms refers to the practice of improvisation within the framework of melodic progression found in the makam-based music system of the middle east (which of course varies by country and region). This word, and concept, was and is so pervasive in the music we have played all these years that we felt it was a fitting representation of what we were hoping to achieve – as this is an improvisation of sorts in its own way!



Aram Hovagimian

How important is our music to each of you? Why?
Our music is supremely important to us – which is a big part of why we are working on this project. Just as critical is the obligation to not only preserve this music and tradition, but also to breathe new life, innovation and creativity into it to keep it alive and thriving in the modern era – and to position it for continued advancement well into the future. This is our way of bringing this vision to life.


Who is your audience for this website – musicians, enthusiasts – both?
The audience is anyone who is interested in the vast expanse of middle eastern music. Musicians, enthusiasts, dancers, or just someone who saw an oud somewhere and is curious about what it is exactly and wants to learn a bit more at his or her own speed and comfort.

While I am putting this story together, I am listing to their radio station which they also created. You can access this by clicking this link.

By the way, this isn’t your ordinary website, it is very professionally put together with high quality graphics, audio and video clips. I am very happy Antranig and Aram have come together to put this community. I encourage you to follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and to share their invention with others.

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Music and Dementia

I believe most of us can attribute a loss within our lifetime to a loved one or friend that has had a form of dementia. I have experienced it first hand with my father and grandmother. I have often said this is an unforgiving disease and in many cases I think it’s worse than cancer or other diseases. They say that experiencing dementia is worse on the loved one rather than the person with the disease. I don’t prescribe to this theory and think that in many cases the person suffering dementia may be fighting against it for a long time.

download.jpegWith that said, I am seeing more and more articles pop up in my social media feeds suggesting that music has an impact on those with dementia. Very interesting studies out there promoting this and I do believe it’s true.

Familiar music can trigger something called Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR), which is not lost when someone has Alzheimer’s. ASMR is compared to a brain stimulation and you recall the piece of music and react accordingly which can calm you and put you in a relaxed mood.

My father enjoyed traditional Armenian music and there were times when I would play music for him on the kanun or with recordings, he would become fixated on the music and it clearly relaxed him for a bit.

Music can evoke an emotion that someone with dementia may recall because it brings back that memory. Some studies even suggest that when all other ways to communicate with a person with dementia, music still can get through.

I have found that watching old movies with my father at times was helpful and had a similar reaction. Especially the old westerns and Charlie Chaplin movies.

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