Denny (right back) enjoys the family making music together... Byron's wife Tori Woodrow, Teresa, Byron, Emma, and Claire at piano in one of her weird hairdos.

How Dennis Hitchcock Raised 3 Classical Musicians… and a Wife

Why such a story in the midst of a blog about Dementia?

I promised in last week’s post I would let you know why it took our family so long to recognize Denny had Dementia. But as I was slogging through all Denny’s medical records, trying to make a timeline of what happened and when it happened, I was pretty discouraged. It was quite depressing revisiting that time—as you can imagine. So I decided to go WAY back in time to tell you what a great mind Dennis Hitchcock had, to let you know what a treasure this man was to me and to my children. And THEN we will work back into the medical timeline with his unfortunate dementia.

I originally decided to write on this subject–raising classical musicians–after attending a concert my son played recently. Byron Hitchcock, my first kid, is now an accomplished professional violinist. He met a pianist – [Canadian] Michael Finlay — in their undergraduate programs at Cleveland Institute of Music. Tight friends ever since, they have made sure to reunite and put on concerts together over the years. Present plans include learning, performing and recording all Beethoven violin piano sonatas. This year’s concert [January 2024] was in Englewood, Colorado, where they performed the Beethoven Kreutzer Sonata.

I was impressed by Byron’s spoken introduction for this recent concert, and particularly touched with his memory of how his dad had influenced his love, not just for the pieces he was planning to play that day, but for classical music in general. Denny had given Byron a cassette tape recording of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata when Byron was just starting to learn violin in junior high, I believe. Byron was wildly taken with the piece, listening to it over and over. But one day he heard the piece performed elsewhere and was flabbergasted because there was MORE MUSIC AT THE END! Denny’s original cassette tape didn’t have enough room to record the whole piece. So Byron was crazy with joy over there being more of that piece to learn! And learn it he did, playing it accompanied by Finlay and with great finesse on both their parts this year in Colorado.

That little story propelled me into reviewing all Denny did to instill a love of great music in his three kids…as well as in his wife (ME!). It was sort of funny that I was the music major in college. Denny was a history major. But he—not my studies at the university—taught me to love the broad spectrum of music beyond my little vocal area, pouring into me a deep love for great music at the same time as he taught all three of our children.

Baby Beginnings

Byron was the oldest and had the benefit of learning great music from his time in the womb! When Denny found out we were expecting our first child, he ramped up the stereo volume and wired EACH ROOM in the house to make sure that baby heard fantastic music non-stop. When Byron was 3, I believe, that little toddler pointed to the TV, where someone was playing the violin. He was ENTRANCED. I am amazed that some people start their little kids playing such an instrument at age 3. We didn’t, since Byron was so wild and (we thought) would be sure to break such an instrument. So for Christmas, we instead bought him a little ukelele that sort of looked like a violin but wasn’t as expensive as the latter. Upon opening the gift, Byron immediately pulled the ukelele up under his chin, thinking it was a violin. I remember saying, “No, honey. This is a ukelele. You hold it down here and strum it like this…” He threw it down and refused to touch it again. He was determined to play violin. His chance came when we moved as a family to Kentucky for Denny to pursue a Master’s in Biblical Studies in Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore. A short distance away was the town of Nicholasville, where we found a lovely family home to rent for the duration of Denny’s schooling. Once we set the kids up for classes in the school system, we heard of a person named Kristann Hardin, who taught children violin. At long last, Byron began to see his dream realized: he had found his version of heaven with a violin in his hand.

Emma was two years younger. Though she became a cellist eventually, we started her on violin with Byron. But Byron was so competitive that Emma decided to switch to cello. I remember them both learning the Suzuki pieces on violin when they first started their instruments back in Kentucky. Byron would be down in the dining room having a snack… and all of the sudden his ears perk up, his eyes widen, and he gasps and charges upstairs! He heard Emma practicing the NEXT Suzuki piece! So he scaled the stairs to his bedroom by leaps and bounds to learn that piece too, AND learned the piece after it as well so that he would keep ahead of her! Yeah…that’s why Emma decided to switch to cello, and no one can blame her!

Teresa has been our wonderful vocalist. As a four-year-old, I remember her singing a solo in front of our church congregation in Nicholasville, Kentucky. She belted out “Jesus, I Love You” with a smile on her face and perfect pitch. What a cutie! But as she grew up and we returned to Wyoming, she started learning the viola so that she could play string trios with her siblings. But she decided it was a pain to pack around a viola, when as a singer all she had to do was open her mouth. So due to that gorgeous voice of hers, we accepted her change from strings to vocal chords!

My Music Background

So, why am I now going to tell you about MY background, when this is to be about Denny’s influence on the kids? Well, I’m the writer and get to tell the story 😊… but also my story puts in contrast what Denny’s more elegant contribution was to our marriage and to our children… and his contribution was incredibly substantial. I thought I would have been the influence on the kids, since I was actually a practicing musician as a singer and pianist, whereas Denny was mostly an “appreciator”, though dabbled with the piano a bit. But WOW what an impact he made in his appreciator role! I look forward to sharing all that… after I relate my pitiful part in preparing our kids to love and perform music…

Dixieland Music

I was raised in a family devoted to music as well. My dad Bill Engstrom played trumpet. My mom Lavona Memmer Engstrom, had an angelic singing voice and beautifully played piano and church organ… and somehow unbelievably could beat out a mean snare drum. My sweet folks met in college at the University of Wyoming in the marching band. Mom was in the drum line behind dad and the other trumpeters. Mom and dad were smitten by one another, marrying after dad finished his finance degree and they headed out to a new life with dad as a banker. They ended up settling in dad’s hometown of Rawlins, Wyoming, where he subsequently started “The Bill Engstrom Dixieland Dance Band”—after hours, since as I noted, dad was a banker in the daytime hours! He found friends who played drums [Eric Smith], the double bass [Darryl Williams], and trombone [Danny Schinkel]. With mom at the piano in her red fringed flapper dress and gorgeous high heels, and Dad and his fellas in red and white candy-striped outfits and hats, they entertained the town of Rawlins… and even scored some gigs at the ritzy “Old Baldy Club” over by Saratoga. Every once in a while, a friend would join their ranks, stepping in to play a clarinet [neighbor Rich Miller]; or another brought Dixieland banjo [Danny’s dad Leo Shinkle played a 5-string plectrum banjo that just sent me over the moon into Happyville.] Daddy said the dance band job paid college tuition for us three daughters.

Barbershop Music

Then Daddy—with never-ending energy [his cousin Mary Bradford called him “The Energizer Bunny”—we think Byron “caught” that energy cell] —put together a barbershop quartet with three other guys [Jerry Felton and Pat Noonan] from the Rawlins National Bank where he worked – and Jack Cramer from the local pharmacy, who could sing the high tenor line. They called themselves “The Bank Notes” and sang commercials on the Rawlins radio KRAL. They were hilarious, especially when they were practicing. One of the guys would sit at the piano and help play out their parts, but he couldn’t turn the page while he was playing. So when they got to the end of a page, the music completely stopped while he calmly turned to the next page and “took it up” where they left off. It was strange hearing that from my bed. They’d be singing along full voice and suddenly–silence–for seemingly no reason. Then the voices would hit it mid-phrase and carry on. I remember hearing both this quartet as well as the Dixieland band practicing in our living room while we three daughters were trying to go to sleep! What dreams we must have had…well, we probably never got into the dream state…

So Mom was not to be outdone. She started her own barbershop quartet with her three daughters—my sisters and me. I remember we learned a song called, “Don’t, Please Don’t Get Stewed Again Tonight” and sang it in 4-part harmony over the phone to my dad at the local Elks Club, trying to get him to come home earlier. He thought it was so funny that they broadcast it from the phone onto speaker throughout the bar that night. I don’t think it made anyone go home any earlier. They just laughed and had an excuse for “just one more” drink. That was even a line in the song. Here are all the words I STILL remember. I think I was somewhere between 7-10 years old when we sang this!

Don’t, please don’t, get stewed again tonight, dear daddy,
Don’t please don’t come home again so tight!
For there are demons in the whiskey
and there’re devils in the rum (rum-rum)!
If you don’t pull it together,
We will all be on the bum (bum-bum-bum)!

Won’t you take a little good advice?
Don’t go in the same place more than twice!
For last night, when you didn’t snore,
You hollered, “Let’s have just one more!”
So, oh, don’t please don’t get stewed again tonight–Again tonight!
Don’t come to your domicile again so tight!!

Church Choir Music

So, wow. Dixieland and Barbershop quartets were “crazy fun “music. But in nice contrast, my Daddy was also the choir director at St. Thomas Episcopal Church and my mom was the organist. Sisters Connie and Lorie and I were in the choir. And so was almost every relative of my dad’s–from his very Swedish Auntie Sis–who sang a wonderful Swedish scoop up to her higher notes, to his sister Betty Wald and her husband Rich and my cousins Anne, Rick and Rob, to the neighbors Della and Vern Vivion and their girls Kristi and Valeri, and dad’s cousin Betty Neubrecht… and his banking friends Joan Cantlin and Karen Lambertsen, and many more. So we learned beautiful church music anthems there (and practiced them with everyone at our house as well!) I still remember all the words to my favorite anthem based on the bible verse, John 3:16: “God So Loved the World”, absolutely lovely music composed by John Stainer. I remember singing that from memory to my dad in his twilight years as he and I reminisced in his room at the Spring Wind Assisted Living facility. I closed my eyes trying to remember the music and words, singing through it and not missing a beat. When I finished the song and opened my eyes, Dad had gotten out of bed and was standing over me as close as he could. He said, “Wow, that was beee-u-tiful!” He remembered that anthem as did I, and the beauty still remains with that music and my memory of dad’s response!

And I remember my mother singing “O, Holy Night” at Christmas Eve Services before our choir would process up the aisle. And I remember Daddy buying a beautiful stereo set for our living room one Christmas, and mom crying as he put on the first record ever to play in our home on that stereo set. It featured the Vienna Academy Choir. Can’t remember what song they were singing, but I DO remember mom’s tears!!

Trumpet Concertos, Piano Duets, and Harmonizing Humming

So I grew up in a family passionate about many kinds of varied, fun music. I remember Mom and Dad racing home during their lunch hour, putting some tomato soup in front of me for lunch and then rushing into the living room to practice together on a trumpet concerto, mom nailing the piano part and dad mastering his trumpet line with such a lovely silvery tone. I remember lounging around the house on weekends and evenings with my sisters playing piano duets. I remember being in the house with sister Connie. She would sing alto and harmonize with even my soprano hums as we did housework together.

High School Band, Choir, and Musicals

Rawlins schools focused on bands and choirs, so I was fitted with a clarinet (just the right fit for someone like me with an overbite 😊) and squeaked my way through to high school band hoping to be another Pete Fountain until I got too busy with singing in the school choirs. And then my sisters and I were fortunate to be in several fun Broadway musicals in our separate high school experiences, from The Sound of Music (Lorie was Maria), West Side Story (Lorie was Maria!), Oklahoma (Connie was a darling Ado Annie), The Music Man (I got to sing Marian the Librarian and Connie was a funny mayor’s wife) and others, truly instilling in us all a love for musicals and accompanying fun fun fun memories FOREVER.

So with all that music, surely I’m supposed to major in music in college, right? I wish I would have explored more to see what would have been helpful in a career, but I “did” music since I knew nothing else. My professors led me down the opera road, and I began loving Puccini’s operas, and anything in which sopranos Beverly Sills or Mirella Freni sang. Then our department put on Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance, where I got to sing the role of Mabel. That was SOOOO very fun… but more importantly…

Pirates of Penzance is what began my romance with Dennis Hitchcock.

Denny was in the audience for one of the Pirates of Penzance performances. He thought I was a professional flown in from New York to sing the role of Mabel! Haha! So of course I fell for him 😊. Fred Gersten staged and directed the show, and his wife Joan accompanied the rehearsals on the piano and coached the singers. Fred had a wonderful sense of humor and put on a fantastic production, with the UW Symphony playing in the pit for the final performances. I’ll never forget all the men in that production as pirates and policemen –they were incredible singers and actors. I think that production and experience has to have been the highlight of my time at college for certain.

Back to Denny’s part to play in all this: He went out to dinner on New Year’s Eve in 1979 with two friends, Don and Leslie Polson. I happened to be out to dinner at the same place, The Calvaryman in Laramie, with my boss Dick VanPelt and his wife Dianne. I was working at the bank where Dick was president. Dianne also worked there and I was a teller. I don’t know how I ended up with them, but there we are. And Denny spotted me from his table with Don and Les, and said, “There’s the woman who sang in Pirates of Penzance, the soprano they brought in from New York to sing the Mabel role!!”

But there was a spoiler alert!– Les Polson was a dancer… and she had danced in a university performance in which I had been a singer, so she knew me: plain old non-New Yorker Betty Engstrom. The name clicked with Denny. His sister, Rebecca Noecker and her husband worked in Rawlins at that time as lawyers. They lived just down the street from my parents and talked about the musical Engstrom family. So he started putting all the pieces together:

(1) The singer girl that I want to meet is out to dinner with Dick and Diane VanPelt, who are bankers.
(2) My brother-in-law Max Valdez is the Public Relations man at 1st National Bank and would know Dick and Dianne at the competing Bank of Laramie.
(3) I need to have someone introduce me to her, so I’ll run to Max’s home, get him to come back and introduce me.

Why he didn’t have Leslie Polson come over and introduce him, I don’t know. But instead, he went forth to carry out his plan. However, when he and Max returned to the Cavalryman [after getting Max out of his bathrobe and presentable for the Cavalryman], my little party had left. But Max had ideas. He knew that on New Years Eve Dick and Dianne would be “making the rounds” about Laramie, so he dragged Denny with him to all the possible places and found Dick and Dianne–but no Betty Engstrom. Dick called me at home, but I didn’t think I should drive back down. It was a wild New Year’s Eve on the STREETS! Dick put on a little pressure: “There’s this nice tall guy with a great haircut who wants to meet you!” But Dianne gave Denny a hint to call me first thing in the morning, since she knew I went to the Fine Arts Center early in the morning to practice. So I get a phone call at an unearthly time next morning from this stranger who wants to take me out for dinner on New Years Day 1980.

I had made a pact with myself never to go on a blind date again. But this was different, since Dennis Hitchcock was Max Valdez’s brother-in-law and of course came with Dick VanPelt’s blessing on his hair. So I accepted. But guess what?! On New Years Day every restaurant in Laramie was closed. So Denny took it to the next step: Centennial, Wyoming was close by, and a restauranteur named Pat Self was keeping his establishment open. So Super Shy Denny drove a Silly Shy Betty Claire all the way to Centennial for dinner. It was an interesting trip with two shysters! But music was our link, our interpreter. It also didn’t hurt that Denny was (1) quite a gentleman, and (2) one handsome guy. Tall, dark thick hair (and Dick was right, he had a great haircut), nicely shaven, trim in a leisure suit. And he had gorgeous eyes that seemed to look into my very soul. And he drove a very clean Volvo. But did I see dog hairs on the back seat? YES! He had a Scottish Terrier called Mr. Chips and a White Westhighland Terrier named Mr. Poker waiting to meet me. Okay, I was sold on this new fella!!

Denny finally had someone he could SHARE music with, so we set a date to go to the Country Dinner Playhouse in Denver for a musical. And thus our musical life began. Musicals, operas, symphonies—we went to so many even before we got married that same year: November 1, 1980.

A New Beginning:
Formal Music Education, courtesy of Self-Appointed Instructor Dennis Hitchcock

Thus my REAL musical instruction began. Denny decided we should repaint some rooms in his house to ready it for our soon-to-be wedded status. Denny prepared a playlist for me to listen to while we painted. The playlist covered what we would be viewing/listening to on our honeymoon. We would be flying to San Francisco and would see THREE operas during that wedding week: Richard Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, Richard Strauss’ Arabella, and Verdi’s La Traviata. Denny wanted me to hear each opera ten times before we got to the performances so that I could truly appreciate the music. Since Tristan and Isolde is almost four hours in length, Arabella two hours thirty minutes, and La Traviata a little over two hours, just imagine all the painting we were having to do to listen through all that repertoire ten times! Haha! That was a standard for Denny. Everything he wanted the kids or me to learn, we knew we were in for a “ten times” listening escapade. He would even tape a chart to the wall and check off to make sure we heard everything in the magic ten-times goal.

I remember when the kids were little but could talk and think and tell me stories in the morning. Particularly the little girls wanted to tell me about their dreams when they came to the breakfast table. But Denny had plans for what needed to be learned musically and was shushing everyone up so we could focus on the music. I had to take him aside and said, “Honey, these little girls are remembering their dreams and need to share them.” Denny wasn’t happy about it, but he grudgingly let them share their dreams…while turning all the music off. He didn’t want it as “background music,” but to be focused on with all their attention!

Teaching Richard Wagner’s “Ring” Cycle to Children

I remember Denny wanting to teach us all to love Richard Wagner’s “Ring” cycle. “Der Ring des Nibelungen” is a cycle of four German-language epic music dramas [operas]. The whole cycle totals about 15 hours of music. What Denny found fun about this project was that Wagner used “Leitmotifs” in his music. A Leitmotif is a musical signature designed to represent a character or theme in an opera. Denny had a little handbook that showed each of the leitmotifs, so we could play them on the piano and have the kids listen to the opera to see if they could pick up when a motif was being played.

It was really fun for a little kid to listen for those leitmotifs. One of the three operas has a dragon in it, so we could always tell when the dragon was about to come on screen due to that leitmotif creeping into the music. There were magical elves who worked underground making something or other with their hammers. That particular leitmotif was so fun, sounding like the jangling of the hammers they used to make jewelry. For that was where “The Ring” was made originally, the very RING that the whole set of operas was named for. So those leitmotifs helped us all know what was happening, even though the operas were sung in German! But it was hilarious that Denny was teaching that to three little kids. It is noteworthy that today, they ALL love Wagner’s opera music, as do I!!

Gilbert & Sullivan Operettas and Musicals

Another production the kids learned was the Gilbert & Sullivan Pirates of Penzance in which I had sung when Den and I first met. The kids LOVED the production that came out in 1983, with Kevin Kline as Pirate King, Angela Lansbury as Ruth, and Linda Ronstadt as Mabel. The kids learned many of the silly lines, and consequently were singing them at odd times, like from the grocery cart by Byron and Emma — “Oh false one, you have deceived me! Yes, deceived me!” It was rather embarrassing shopping in those days.

One of my neighbors told me she heard Byron riding down the alley behind our houses on his bicycle, singing “Maria” from Bernstein’s West Side Story at the top of his lungs. And when we were in Kentucky, the house we were renting had a huge backyard. Someone who had the house previous to us must have had a hot tub or a little pool in the back yard. There was a complete circle of grass missing, where their circular tub had been located. Teresa and Emma decided that circle was “The Ring of Fire” from Wagner’s opera, The Valkyrie, one of Wagner’s four music dramas in his “Ring cycle” that I referenced earlier. They both took turns being Brunhilde. Their child play subjects became rather refined!

Music from their heads to their toes

So our children’s musical education started at home, made deep impact, and continued throughout their schooling. As I just noted, we moved to Kentucky from Laramie, Wyoming for Denny to attend seminary at Wilmore. And it just so happened that the school system in Jessamine County started violin lessons that year. But in addition, they had ballet classes and were going to put on Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker during those years we were in Kentucky. So Denny encouraged me to enroll the children in ballet. Byron got to dance the lead Nutcracker role, Emma danced a lovely snowflake and also a doll, and Teresa was a darn cute mouse.

Byron and Emma had already had some ballet in Laramie before we moved, just an FYI. Emma wanted to try ballet, and just because SHE was doing it, Byron wanted to. His friends certainly sure made fun of him, calling him “The Ballet Dude”. But we were hopeful that ballet would help him get his body more contained since he was SO accident-prone. Ballet ended up being amazing for him, his teacher telling us that he was a “born dancer”. He could do leaps all around the stage, but as soon as he walked off, he would run into the wall! He was still accident-prone! But dancing did give all three kids a feel for the music, which has undergirded all three’s performances in their separate violin, cello, and singing lives.

In high school, Byron’s and Emma’s string teacher, Sherry Sinift, stressed the need for them both to progress to better instruments than the cheapies we had them playing on. Denny was in the process of selling our first house, since we had returned from Kentucky to find his Dad not doing well. Denny decided we should move in with his dad so that he could care for him. So Den decided to take part of the house proceeds to purchase good quality violin and cello instruments for the kids. They are STILL playing on those very instruments – at least 25 years later! Denny certainly had foresight and knew the investment would pay off in so many beautiful ways.

Denny’s Mind

Denny had an incredible mind, the kids and I have decided. He knew music so deeply and well that it ran it through his mind continually. Case in point: when he and I took trips in the car anywhere, it was really hard on me…and lonely. Why? Because he was running some symphony or opera or who knows what through his mind and enjoying it thoroughly. I’d say, “What are you listening to?” And he’d tell me what piece and what movement and everything. But then I’d say, “It’s pretty hard to hear that in my seat. Can you turn up the volume?” He didn’t need a tape player or radio or cassette in the car. He just carried his mind.

The kids knew about that amazing mind as well, and when they went off to college, they would tell their friends about it. So, at their college parties, it became the “thing to do” to call Denny and ask him what he was listening to. He tell them the piece, movement, and where he was in the movement and would sing it to them. They were all amazed. He didn’t need a stereo system or headphones, though he did use them if he wanted one of us to hear as well.

The kids also liked to call and talk to Denny, because he knew SO MUCH about the music they were studying while away at college. Byron studied violin at Cleveland Institute of Music for his undergraduate program, in Boston’s New England Conservatory for his master’s program, and in New York for an artist’s certificate. Emma studied cello at Louisiana State University. Teresa studied voice and opera at the State University of New York, continuing on for her master’s at the University of Maryland. And still they all learned from their dad, loving to call him from their far-away places. Denny would say, “Oh my gosh, listen to the 3rd movement right after the first 5 minutes, when the oboe comes out with the most heavenly melody…” or something to that effect. He taught them all to love even more the music they were studying.

It was the thrill of Denny’s life to get to go to see and hear each of his children perform their music at their respective graduating recitals at their colleges:

  • Byron Recital in Cleveland, Ohio
    My parents were both alive and able to join our family for this recital. Byron’s program did not include any Dixieland, but his beautiful playing of his violin repertoire sent my momma into a flurry trying to dig Kleenex out of her purse to dab her eyes.
  • Emma Recital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
    My dad was still alive and came to Louisiana with my sister and her husband, joining our family when Emma performed her senior recital there. What a blessing to hear and see beautiful Emma and hear her gorgeous cello playing. Where were those Grandma Kleenexes? We were in short supply!
  • Teresa’s Recitals/Performances in New York and Maryland
    While in New York for Teresa’s vocal performance [where her program included Strauss’ “Four Last Songs”, on which she had her brother play violin along with the pianist–SO fun and SO BEAUTIFUL!], her voice sent us all into tears, once again searching in vain for my mom’s rescue Kleenex. We all went together as a family to see an opera at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York that week. What a fantastic memory as a family, a tribute to Denny having shared his love of music with us all! We also were able to travel to Maryland, when Teresa’s University of Maryland’s graduate program put on Mozart’s “Cosi Fan Tutte” with Teresa singing lead role Fiordiligi. Gosh, Denny and I felt fortunate to be able to attend all these events.

Denny’s Musical Mind: the last year

Music was so alive to Denny, even up to the last year of his life, when he was suffering from dementia. One day early in January 2023, he came up the stairs (he confined himself to the downstairs during that time, narrowing his surroundings to keep himself less confused, I believe) and ventured up to the dining room table, where I was working. He said, “Do you want to hear my song?” Of course, I said! He proceeded to sing me the song “Oh, I Can’t Sit Down!” from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess opera, with some slight Denny-made changes:

“Oh, I can’t sit down!
Got to keep a-movin’ like the movin’ of a train!
Today I am happy and free!
Just a bubblin’, nothin’ troublin’ me!
Oh, I’m goin’ to town! I can’t sit down.
Happy feelin’
In my bones a-stealin’
No concealin’
That it’s picnic day.”

The people in Gershwin’s opera were citizens of Catfish Row as they made their trip to Kittiwah Island for a picnic. The group song is exuberant and happy as they headed out to their community picnic gathering. Denny said it reminded him of when his dad put him as a child on a bus in Laramie to head out to the Blair Picnic Grounds up by Vedauwoo–just a short way from Laramie on the way to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Denny said it was such a fun trip to that picnic. I asked his cousin about that bus and trip, since their families grew up together in Laramie. She never heard of such a trip or picnic, so we are wondering if Denny imagined such in his dementia. But whether fact or fiction, it made him extremely happy.

His rendering of the song came about in the last year of his life, as I noted earlier. Denny had been diagnosed with dementia at least a year prior to his coming up with his “happy song”, as we called it. In fact, the day he arose from the basement with his rousing performance, he continued to come up six more times that day, asking me if I had heard his happy song (since as a result of dementia he forgot what he had just done). I always said, “No I haven’t! Please sing it to me!” And he would happily comply. He also called the kids on their phones at least six times each that day to sing them his song. So, his predictability gave them some warning that a likely next call would be coming. All were able to record the song on their phones to keep for posterity.

But it is interesting that his happy song never left him. The next month, on February 1st of 2023, Denny broke his leg falling off our waterbed. The EMTs took him by ambulance to Ivinson Memorial Hospital’s Emergency Room late that night. After checking him out and finding many problems–not just the broken leg–the ER doc decided to admit him to the hospital. While we were waiting for the paperwork to be finalized and room made ready, I noticed the nurses looking exhausted during the midnight shift. So I asked Denny if he had sung his happy song to the nurses, since they looked like they could stand some cheering up. He then burst into song, to their disbelief. It was fun to watch their tired faces erupt into smiles.

So Denny’s happy song continued to be sung through his next week at Ivinson Memorial. Then the doctor decided Denny needed to be placed in a nursing transitional facility which the family could pick. We chose one in Colorado Springs, since Byron, Emma, Teresa and their families currently lived in the area. And Denny’s happy song continued to be “played” in the nursing facility for the nurses and doctors in Colorado starting on February 7th, 2023. Once I had to transport him to the University of Colorado Medical Center for an x-ray. While he was in the x-ray room, I could hear him through the door, singing his song to the technicians. They came out with smiles on their faces too.

In late March, Denny was excused from the transitional nursing facility to Home Hospice, to my newly rented condominium in Colorado Springs. His song continued with him there. My little grandson, only 2 years old at the time, got to hear grandpa’s song many a time until Den’s death on April 30, 2023.

Denny’s Funeral

Byron, Emma and Teresa planned the funeral service for Denny, laced throughout with the beautiful music Denny had brought us all to appreciate and love. The service ended with a video the kids had compiled of his life, including the phone clip of Denny singing his happy song from his hospital bed. I’ve never seen a funeral end on a happy note. But this one did, thanks to Denny himself…and his imaginative, technically savvy kids.

And the song didn’t stop there. I ended up selling our home in Laramie, Wyoming, moving everything to Colorado Springs. I bought a town house in the Springs. and started helping Emma by taking her little boy Keene to his daycare some mornings. I’d place him in his child seat in the back of my car and we would head out for a 20-minute ride to his daycare. And from the back seat came the strains of Denny’s happy song: little Keene had heard it over and over and now sang it himself, taking Grandpa’s happy song with him wherever he went. What a legacy!

In Closing

If you’ve made it all the way to this ending, thanks for bearing with the long description of my family’s music background. It lightened my mood substantially, remembering our wonderful life of music, and remembering Denny at his best and sweetest. Thank you for letting me share with you.

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