Let the Music Play 


My best friend of over thirty years is here in Birmingham with me, and we have been rehearsing for our Amicitia Duo recital tour that begins tomorrow- three states in three days. We have both been looking forward to some medicinal BFF time, as each of us has been struggling lately; Diane is caring for her sweet mother whose Alzheimer’s continues to worsen, and I have had my own share of life, as well. Being with Diane never fails to heal me. We laugh, we talk, and she inspires me with her beautiful spirit and musicianship. With each passing moment, we help each other to remember how blessed we are, that no matter the challenges we face, we have each other- no judgement, only steadfast love and support. 


This tour is extra special, as it will be the first time we get to perform a brand new work written especially for us by the wonderful composer,  Scott MvAllister. Scott, the composition professor at Baylor University, is a friend and fellow FSU alumn, and has written some of the best and most innovative new music out there for the clarinet and other instruments and ensembles. With The Amicitia Suite, named for our Duo (Amicitia means ‘friendship’ in Latin), Scott had us send him the results of our personality tests. He also had followed the stories I shared about the last year of my mother’s life, and has been following Diane’s own journey caring for her mother. Here is what Scott had to say about the work:

The Amicitia Suite was written for the Amicitia Duo, Diane Barger and Denise Gainey. This work illuminates the life-long friendship of Diane Barger and Denise Gainey. At the time this piece was composed, both Barger and Gainey inspired me with the love and dedication they had given to their mothers during the final chapters of their lives.

 The first movement, Prelude “Play Pretty,” is inspired by Diane Barger’s relationship with her mother. The melody “Goin’ Home” from Dvorak’s ninth symphony is used in this movement because it is a favorite melody in their relationship and a possible family connection to Dvorak. Diane’s mother would always tell her to “play pretty” and Diane passes on this phrase to all of her students as well.

Schizo Scherzo is the second movement of the Amicitia Suite. This work plays with the form of the third movement of Brahms’ first clarinet sonata with many orchestral excerpts mixing around the sonata. The E-flat clarinet and B-flat clarinet play and compete for attention, even stealing excerpts from each other in a playful mood.

 The third movement, Heavy D, is dedicated to Denise and her mother. Like the Prelude, Denise inspired me with her loving care and dedication to her mother. The music emulates the “heavy” love they both had for each other, their glowing smiles, and the heaviness of the loss of life…but also the hope that we will all be together again.

BFF is the last movement. BFF is the acronym for Best Friends Forever. This movement portrays the fun and exciting energy that Diane and Denise exude when they are together on and off the stage. I was honored to write this work for my dear friends and look forward to many more memories in the future!

Yeah. That. 

We can barely play through the Play Pretty for Me and Heavy D movements without breaking into tears. That was made more apparent when Diane received a call in the middle of our rehearsal today. The look on her face told me everything I needed to know…it was from the home care company who checks on her mother. Mom Cawein had fallen. She was okay, but Diane was worried- a constant state when you are caring for an ailing parent. How well I remember that helpless feeling. 

Diane and her sweet mom. 


As we played, I teared up thinking about how beautiful it is that our mothers and our long friendship have been immortalized through music. I could see Diane’s mother’s sweet face, hearing her tell Diane to “Play pretty!”  I could feel my mother’s love, remembering always that first clarinet she bought for me in 7th grade by trading a cherished antique necklace, as well as her fierce belief in me. I thought of my gratitude for this beautiful friendship with Diane that I am so grateful to have in my life. 

Tears will probably come as we perform Scott’s piece over the next few days, but they will be tears of gratitude and love- the most special and healing tears of all. Let the music and the life play on and on. 

“‘Friends’ are a dime a dozen, these days. But true friendship is rare. When you’re sick, when you’re hurt, when you’re low…will they show up? When you’re high on yourself, will they call you out on your arrogance in a kind way? When you have spaghetti on your face, will they let you know?”

~ Waylon Lewis ​

 I sure know what kind of best friend I am blessed to have.

Diane with Heavy D three years ago…


6 thoughts on “Let the Music Play 

  1. Denise…another wonderful read. Will you be putting your performance of this piece on YouTube or is there any way we all could hear it at some point? Would love to. Thanks. Love to you and your wonderful friend. Hope all is well with her Mom.
    Lynn Wisniewski

  2. Wow! Very powerful stuff! I was moved just by reading it. I will never know the exact feeling of caring for an aging parent since I lost both of mine at a fairly young age..young for me as well as for both of them. My mother, who raised me by herself from the time I was in the 6th grade until I her death when I was 19, a sophomore in college, when she was 56. She had an unexpected heart attack from a blood clot, and was gone, leaving me to “fend for myself”, which I have always been able to do. My father, with whom I had very little contact from age 10 until his death, my first year of teaching, drowned in an accident at the age of 59. I remember, with great fondness and sentiment, both of them. My mother gave me many very strong values and always cared for my needs, both physical and emotional. My father gave me a sense of being kind to others, a sense of loving the jovial side of life, and what small amount of talent I may have for music. The pain of their loss still lingers, but it does become easier and changes form.

    That was good for me to write down. I don’t think I have ever done that before. Thank you for providing me a safe place to share that, Denise. You have taught me so much, both professionally and personally, in the short time I have known you.

    I too would LOVE to hear you and Diane play together! Please let us know some of the venues for your performances, and yes, a YouTube posting would be much appreciated as well! Break reeds and legs!!

    Jan Betterton

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