By Avery Ballmann | Staff Writer
Ruston, La., senior Carlie Toliver soothed her grandmother during her battle with Alzheimer’s disease with her gift of playing piano. The tunes of the hymns were embedded into her grandmother’s memory and she sang along and Toliver tapped the ivory keys. Toliver said the lyrics to the hymns were one of the few things that her grandmother remembered before she passed away in 2016.
Out of this loss, Toliver has created Music for Memory and began collecting money to be donated to research for the Alzheimer’s Association. Since 2016, Toliver has raised over $10,000 and decided to bring her project to Baylor before she walks across the stage in May. She is hosting a benefit concert at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday in Roxy Grove Hall.
“It just really struck me how much that [playing hymns] meant to her and how much it meant to our family to be able to see that,” Toliver said. “So after she passed, I wanted to find a way to help fundraise for a cure and I thought that combining music with this, especially as a musician myself, would be a special way to honor specifically her memory but also help everyone else in the process.”
The benefit is free and open to the public, but Toliver will be taking donations by cash, check, Venmo or PayPal. The program consists of a variety of musical acts such as vocalists, soloists and group performances by Baylor School of Music students.
“It was really incredible to see how willing my friends were to step up and play for a cause like this,” Toliver said. “It was really cool to see that and meant a lot to me that they’re willing to spend their Saturday performing for other people.”
McKinney sophomore Katie Cox is performing a string quintet at the concert for fun and for her grandmother, who also suffered from Alzheimer’s. Like Toliver’s grandmother, Cox’s family played music for her grandmother and the last song Cox recalls them playing was “You Are My Sunshine” and her grandmother was able to recite the tune.
“There’s just something about it that jogs your memory,” Cox said. “It makes you happy to be able to see other people get joy from music, especially when it might be the last thing they hear.”
Toliver and Cox also participate in a group called Music & Memory, which is run through the pre-health department. Students visit Living Springs Village, a memory care facility in Waco, and play music and chat with the residents once a month.
Lesley McAllister Ph.D., director of piano pedagogy and professor, has known Toliver since her freshman year. She has watched Toliver through her college experience and said she is very “service-oriented.”
“I’m so very proud of her, she’s just such a giving person,” McAllister said. “It’s been wonderful to see her find her calling and find her passion through this process, she’s always been a gifted pianist since the time she came to Baylor.”
Toliver is performing “Fantasie” by Mendelssohn and a hymn arrangement as piano solos. Though her experience of watching her grandmother lose her memory was difficult, Toliver hopes that the Music for Memory concert will “spread light on the subject” and “do something good.”
“It’s hard to watch that happen, but to have those glimmers of hope and have those moments where you realize that she’s still the same person, that’s just something I want to keep spreading to everybody,” Toliver said. “Music is something that can connect people in so many different ways, in ways you don’t even expect, people you don’t think are possible to reach anymore, music can do so much.”