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Music Breaks Through For Stroke Survivor - A Former Leader In Western Australian Music Education

Recently life for Roy Rimmer has changed dramatically. Gone are the busy creative years of the past, sadly replaced by empty frustrating days where speech and memory are uncertain, and dependence and pain are the norms. That is until Jo Wood, a volunteer classical guitarist at Bethanie Peel came along and sparked a light that seemed close to going out.

88-year-old Roy has a severe neurological condition as a result of numerous strokes, which prevents him from being very responsive. His receptive and expressive dysphasia means what he actually says may not be what his brain is thinking.

Roy was an innovator and ‘mover and shaker’ in the musical education of children and adults first in England and later in Western Australia after he arrived in 1982. Wife Ann says, “Roy was already 52 when he took on a million and a half square miles of WA as Superintendent of Music for Schools and Colleges.”

Roy spent lengthy periods of time in a light aircraft as he travelled the state from Esperance to The Kimberley and everywhere in between with the mammoth task of ensuring all Western Australian students had access to music. He started music centers in Geraldton, Albany, Port Hedland and Esperance and was on the committee which established the WAAPA Conservatorium.

Sadly, the Government scandal of WA Inc occurred in 1987 and education funds were drastically reduced, Roy was heartbroken and resigned his post. He approached the Headmaster of Christchurch Grammar School in Claremont to be Head of Music and went on to teach there for 13 marvelous years.

Roy was 72 when he retired and he suffered from depression almost immediately, as work was his everything. He tried teaching piano lessons, but it wasn’t enough for a man who worked from 6am with choir rehearsals, to a full day of school and more choir in the evening as well as playing cricket on the weekend and being a tremendous father ferrying his kids around for music lessons and sporting events.

His condition deteriorated and then he had his first stroke. Over the last 10 years Roy has had another five strokes, each one taking away some of his ability to speak.

Wife Ann says, “He has changed so much from what he was when he was working, it’s hard to recognize the same person. It’s almost as if he’s worn himself out. He suffers memory loss and he can’t reply coherently, but he understands with his eyes. “It's a huge relief to see his condition improving because Bethanie understands that when Roy listens to music, he is less frustrated and becomes calmer.”

Musician and local printmaker Jo Wood started as a volunteer playing classical guitar in aged care homes in 2009, using it as an opportunity to polish up on her recital programs prior to concert performances. It brought her such joy that as she moved across Australia and eventually to the South West, she has continued to play at retirement villages and aged care homes. Jo has now been volunteering at Bethanie Peel since winter 2018 when she first met Roy.

Bethanie Peel Facility Manager Annemarie Alexander says, “Roy isn’t mobile, so he is bed and chair bound and we don’t tend to get much response from him. Communication can be quite challenging, and he was going through phases where he would clamp his mouth closed and refuse to eat.

Generally, aged care homes like to play upbeat or nostalgic music to help people reminisce, but when Jo came in and began playing classical guitar Roy’s face changed. Jo sits with Roy and talks to him about music and instruments and they have a wonderful understanding and relationship. Roy is also now happily eating all the time and waits eagerly each week for Jo’s regular visit during our Friday morning tea.”

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