Elaine Lebar may not remember the names of staff members at her Buzzards Bay memory care facility. And she may not know her daughter has visited immediately after she leaves.
But there’s one thing Lebar still remembers: how to play the piano.
The 92-year-old dementia patient’s playing went viral last week, thanks to a TikTok that streamed her incredible performance of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” It currently has 1.9 million Likes and more than 19,000 comments.
“I don’t know it,” Lebar replies to her daughter’s request for the piece’s 3rd movement before jumping into the composition full speed.
The musician’s daughter and camerawoman, Randi Lebar, has posted her mother’s feats on TikTok (@orifbone) and watched her fame skyrocket for almost a month now. A Sagamore resident, Randi has shared classical music snippets that have captured more than 6 million people worldwide. (Earlier, she posted the videos to Facebook, where they accrued thousands, rather than millions, of views.)
The viral fame has stunned Randi and her mom. Several former students and acquaintances of Elaine have even reached out these last few weeks with kind memories and compliments of Randi’s mother.
“Nothing makes sense to [my mom] right now, but especially not this,” Randi told the Globe. “Honestly, it doesn’t even make sense to me. I didn’t even know what TikTok was until recently. … And the outpouring of love we’ve gotten from people is just astonishing.”
As Elaine’s dementia progresses, some of her key cognitive abilities have dissipated. It’s difficult for her to retain any short-term information or know where she is. But her musical prowess hasn’t faded.
Randi said Elaine is fully able to harmonize, read music, and transpose compositions into different keys.
“I want everyone to realize that people who have dementia, there’s still a lot in there,” Randi said.
A longtime pianist, accompanist, composer, and music teacher, Elaine approached piano as an integral part of her life. She attended the Brooklyn High School of the Arts, Brooklyn College as a music major, and then the University of Missouri for her master’s several decades ago. In Maryland, she built a career — and a life — with her husband and three children.
Then 10 years ago, following the death her longtime partner, Stanley Lebar, Elaine began to show signs of memory loss. It worsened until her children put her in independent-living facility and then assisted living. She moved to Massachusetts almost three years ago to Keystone Place, located near Randi.
During Randi’s frequent visits to Elaine, they almost always gather around the piano. She’s made it a point to record her often.
“My phone is filled with videos of my mother,” Randi said. “She’s truly a treasure.”
Many of the videos available online are recordings of Elaine that Randi made years ago and then saved.
In fact, Randi only turned to TikTok during a week when Keystone temporarily closed to visitors after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19.
She said the prolonged presence of COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on families like hers.
“That’s when it really struck me how much the pandemic has taken away from [my mom] and everyone in one of these facilities,” Randi said.
Now that their visits have resumed, Randi is celebrating their unprecedented online celebrity — and Elaine is still playing the piano.
Randi even thinks her late father is cheering them on.
“He’s up there laughing right now that his wife is getting the attention she deserves."
Diti Kohli can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @ditikohli_.
Diti Kohli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Follow her on Twitter @ditikohli_.