My Dad was 94 when he passed away. Three days before he died, he was teaching a singing lesson. Music was what kept him going, I am sure of it. He was an opera singer with the Chicago Opera Company in the days of Caruso and Gigli, Galli-Curci and Lily Pons. He married and had many children, settled into teaching more, performing less. I grew up listening to the voices of thousands as they came and went into our home music studio. Some were good, others not so much. The common thread of all the students, young and old was that singing made them happy. The 45 minutes of physical, emotional and even spiritual release that each person experienced during his or her lesson was life defining. Of course there were the usual kids whose parents made them come and sing. The budding “geniuses” that were sure to be the next stage sensations. But most of all, the children and adults really loved their lessons. I believe that it was a gift to sing. I remember hearing (I was always snooping around in the corners of the next room, listening in!) his students tell him often that this was the highlight of the week for them. Adults who had always dreamed of being more than what their work defined them as, teenagers who wanted to learn to rock out, they were all welcome. As the years passed, many of my siblings learned to play instruments or sing. My sister Pamela took over the “family business” and became the main vocal coach when my father slowed down and eventually passed on. My brother played guitar and became a beloved music educator who influenced thousands of young children over a thirty-year period. Other sisters became involved in the theater or the arts and I learned the violin.
Music has served us all well in many ways but as I get older, I realize the importance of studying and playing an instrument even into your very late years. As long as you can move a bit, you can still make playing and learning music a part of your life.
When you are a young child, I believe learning to play an instrument is an essential part of your education. It doesn’t matter what instrument you play. Although I am partial to the violin for obvious reasons, you can actually change your brain by playing any instrument! There is much research that indicates advancement in math skills for those that play and read music. To be able to become accomplished to even an intermediate degree will set a child on the path of great success. I have seen it over and over. My students are generally the highest achievers in other facets of their lives. Is it that the parents are watching over them more carefully and push them to be and do all that they can? Possibly but there is also more. When a child is introduced to a different way of thinking and expressing themselves such as through the gift of music, it will stretch their brain to think outside the standard box. The creative mind comes alive and problem solving also becomes easier. A private teacher is an essential part of their equation. The schools do what they can with limited resources and overcrowded classes but the one on one interaction of student to teacher is so important. Children will then learn to respect an adult, push themselves to achieve, schedule themselves to practice, and learn to interact on an adult level, the list goes on and on. And all before the age of 18!
As an adult the returns may be even greater. I find that learning new things seems to slow down significantly as you age. You become entrenched in daily life and your brain settles into a comfortable pattern, all cozy in its “regular routine”. The problem with this is that we need to keep that brain on its toes if we can hope to be sharp as we approach 90. There are, of course many ways to do this but I cannot think of a better way than learning a musical instrument. Or going back to an instrument that you played as a child and wished you’d not put aside. In my experience, my older students have to go through a learning curve that can sometimes be difficult. Once they break through, the light is turned on, cobwebs are gone and the brain is now going full force again! The time it takes to begin to get your brain in “fight mode” again differs from one to another. We all go at our own pace but with patience it could happen in 2 weeks, a month or two months. Also depends on how often you open the case and practice as well!
So when you are thinking about the next best thing to do for your child or yourself, go back to basics. Learn to play, sing, dance or paint. Find a great teacher that you respect. But delve into it with a passion and it will reward you for a lifetime.
You may email comments to Jeannie at Bocaviolin@gmail.com
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