by Jeannie S. Morgenbesser

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 Jeanniemorgenbesser@gmail.com