Part survivor’s memoir, part how-to guide for would-be survivors and their caregivers, featuring the titular trifecta plus a lifetime’s worth of wit and received wisdom, acute observations, poetry and boundless good will.
In her mid-40s, MacTavish (Creating New Rhythms with Old Songs, 2004) was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Over the ensuing decade and a half, she focused her obvious intelligence and gale-force willpower on helping others attain what she achieved—as balanced and fulfilled a life as she can possibly have. Her idiosyncratic program of therapeutic, drum-based group storytelling sessions, as outlined in this book, combines hard science with DIY music-making and more than a little humor. Rich with personal anecdotes about her experiences as a patient, group facilitator and educator, MacTavish’s “resource guide and training manual” gracefully makes its point that the universal rhythms of life and healing are available to all, regardless of musical experience, age or prognosis. Its gently punning prose—a patchwork of vintage song titles, musical and linguistic exercises and intriguing quotations from such works as The Comic’s Toolbox and The Secret Life of the Brain—hides more than a few stingers in its consistently cheery midst: “My body became a private laboratory… for neurobiology and brain plasticity,” she says matter-of-factly. Her medical history, however, isn’t the primary focus of her book; rather, MacTavish consistently relates her struggle for personal growth and wellness to those people with whom she works—mostly seniors and others with degenerative diseases or debilitating physical or neurological conditions. With charm and endless patience, she relates her methods for achieving each small success as if they were treasured poems or favorite recipes, not some clinical methodology. Her clear-eyed sense of self-awareness and intrinsic honesty keep light the tone of a work that might easily veer into the maudlin or overly mystical and technical in lesser hands.
Utterly devoid of pity or easy sentimentality, deeply human and truly inspirational for musicians and nonmusicians alike.