Saturday, June 15, 2019
Sunday’s Concert Pianist Gives Voice to Elderly and Dying
Tony found a renewed enthusiasm for life as he met with Grisha Krivchenia over the four months it took to co-write “The Long Way Home.”
Friday, October 12, 2018


Grisha Krivchenia had no idea what to expect as he sat down with Tony, a New Mexican silversmith who was nearing the end of his life.

The elderly man, by now blind and unable to walk, was in and out of consciousness. He had trouble hearing what Krivchenia was saying, and he was confused about why the young composer and concert pianist had come to his home.

But by the second visit Tony was more articulate and lucid. And, at the end of four months, he and 16 members of his family listened proudly with hundreds of people in their hometown theater as Krivchenia and other professional musicians performed a song that Tony and Krivchenia had co-written about the day Tony came home from Vietnam.

Grisha Krivchenia comes from a musical family—his sister is an opera singer and his brother a drummer in a band.

“Everyone who attended saw the possibility of a deeper relationship with the elders in their lives,” Krivchenia would go on to tell an audience at TEDxSanJuanIsland. “Art is not just for artists…it is the ancient mark of our shared humanity.”

Krivchenia began working with nursing home and hospice residents a few years ago as part of Lifesongs, an intergenerational arts project that celebrates the human journey through music, poetry and dance. The project is an offspring of Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Stern’s Academy for the Love of Learning.

The young man, who performs solo piano and chamber concerts from Los Angeles to Bucharest, is in the Wood River Valley this weekend on behalf of Hospice and Palliative Care of the Wood River Valley.

He will also offer a free concert at 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14, at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Ketchum as part of a tour that includes concerts in Boise and Salt Lake City.

“He’s the grandson of a very dear friend of mine—I’ve known him since he was in a high chair,” said Hailey resident Margery Friedlander, who became acquainted with the young pianist while living in Marietta, Ohio, from1969 to 1972.

“I find his work with elderly clients very touching, as he gains the trust of these people and sets their life stories to music, taking their words and turning them into lyrics,” she added. “He connects people to their pasts and he does so with a lot of empathy.”

Facing death gives us an unprecedented perspective that no one else can inhabit fully until they approach that door, said Krivchenia, who studied piano and composition at Oberlin Conservatory. But programs like Lifesongs offer the elderly and their loved ones an opportunity to focus not just on mere survival, but a creative way to share an accumulated lifetime of experiences.

“It’s a way to bring death and dying out of closet and reconnect with wisdom of our elders,” said Krivchenia.

Over super-spicy homemade enchiladas and posole, Krivchenia listened for the stories that Tony was most invested in--the ones that drew an emotion, the ones that offered a fresh take on the way the world works.

They composed a ballad about Tony’s boyhood dog Viejo. Then Tony began opening up about being drafted into the Army and the most difficult year of his life.

He told Krivchenia how he had slept poorly the entire year he served in Vietnam for fear of night ambushes. And he told him how he slept 24 hours straight when he returned home.

Often at the end of life people feel the need to share their experiences, especially those they have not processed, said Krivchenia, who also recently completed a song cycle based on interviews with Syrian refugees living in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

“Tony found that, by telling his story, he learned more about his military experience. Bringing up traumatic memories was difficult, but it brought him to new depths of self-knowledge,” he added.

Krivchenia brought his keyboard into Tony’s living room. And together they turned Tony’s words into lyrics: “Today I came home from Vietnam…When I saw the tears on my mama’s face I just couldn’t hold it in…We didn’t know what we were fighting for, but we fought hard just the same.”

Krivchenia asked Tony whether he wanted the melody to go up or down. And he asked whether he wanted a dark chord in a certain place or an optimistic one.

When completed, they had a legacy in song that could be shared by Tony’s family and the larger community.

“Together we created something that neither of us could have done alone,” said Krivchenia.


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