Elaine Lebar, a 95-year-old with dementia, has gone viral on TikTok, thanks to her daughter, Randi Lebar, who began posting videos of Lebar playing the piano.
Elaine Lebar, a 95-year-old with dementia, has gone viral on Tiktok for performing classics like Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," Debussy's "Clair de Lune" and Chopin's "Waltz in C Sharp Minor." Her daughter, Elaine Randi, began posting videos of Lebar playing the piano after moving her into a memory care facility near her home in Sagamore, Massachusetts.
"With the pandemic lockdown, all of a sudden, I couldn't visit her. I could only see her through a window," Randi told USA TODAY. "At one point, I just said, I need to put a face to these people who were locked up with no voice." One of their videos on Tiktok, in which Lebar can be seen playing the third movement of the Moonlight Sonata, amassed 8.7 million views.
Randi expressed shock when that video received all that attention in one day. "I remember I posted it in the morning, and my phone started to blow up. I couldn't even open TikTok because it just crashed every time I tried to open it," Randi said. "By that evening, that video had four and a half million views. And the rest is history."
Lebar began playing the piano at a very young age. She holds a bachelor's degree from the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music and a master's degree in music pedagogy at the University of Missouri, where she met her husband. After starting her family with three children, Lebar still taught piano lessons, composed music and performed in concerts. "As a kid, your parents, they're just normal," Randi said. "I always knew my mother had this amazing musical ability, but I didn't realize what a special person she was until later in life."
Because of her fan following on TikTok, Randi uses the platform to spread awareness about dementia education and music therapy. "There was a whole cadre of music therapists that were chiming in," Randi said. "Isn't it magical what music can do, even with a fairly debilitating brain disease?"
Randi also urges her audience to be patient when caring for a loved one with dementia. "If you see her away from the piano, she is a lost little old lady with dementia who doesn't know where she is or where she's going," she said. "I wanted people to understand... don't give up on these people. They might still have something very real to offer the world."
While speaking about her mother's story to Metro, Randi shared: "Although she can dress and feed herself, she has almost no short-term memory. Five minutes after playing piano, she will not remember that she played. Thankfully, she does recognize me most of the time. Her mind is sharp despite her dementia, as you can see in the videos with the conversation."
"Although music has always been important in her life, now it's the only thing that makes sense," she added. The Debussy piece was Lebar's debut TikTok video, garnering over 80K views. "The first time I was allowed to visit with her in person at the piano was Sept 18, 2020," Randi shared. "As she struggled through 'Clair de lune,' my favorite, I realized how much she and I had lost in the six months before."\
Despite her struggles with remembering the names of people or whether her daughter has visited her, the only memory Lebar always comes back to is music. Now, telling her mother about her viral success, Randi said, "After explaining the site as clearly as I could, her response to the fact that hundreds of thousands of people were watching her videos was, 'They must have too much time on their hands. They need something better to do.'"