Strike Up the Band
The Great Importance of Lifelong Learning
5 years ago I stumbled across an activity that would truly turn out to be life-changing. I was volunteering at an outdoor festival at Ryerson University when I heard some ‘interesting’ live music in the background. During my break, I wandered over to the source of the sound to check them out and what I saw intrigued me. Approximately 30 happy, smiling, sparkling faces (of the senior variety) playing a range of woodwind, brass and percussion instruments. And this was my introduction to the New Horizons Band of Toronto, “a band program for mature adults, who wish to play a musical instrument in a friendly group environment”. The next day I headed to Long & McQuade (NHB’s sponsor and support) and faster than it takes me to buy lettuce, I was registering for a beginner class and renting (to own) a flute. I had a very rusty knowledge of reading music from piano lessons decades ago, but that was the extent of my experience.
So why flute? Truthfully, because I knew it would be easy to carry. Naively, I had no idea how challenging this would become. In all fairness, NHB does offer an Instrument Exploration Workshop prior to signing up during which a potential band member can try out a range of instruments and get assistance in the selection process. Sadly, I missed that evening and that’s how I ended up with a flute. Over the next few months I faced the reality of the flute challenge – coordinating the fingering, the embouchure (position of mouth) and the breathing. I am not exaggerating when I say that any sound I made the first 6 months was random. But because the atmosphere of a NHB is based on fun and respect, I persevered and 5 years later I am able to make deliberate sounds.
My musical journey has been incredible, discouraging, glorious, embarrassing, euphoric, frustrating and everything in between. I have never aspired to be a soloist and yet there have been times when the only note you hear is a wrong one emanating from my flute. NHB’s motto is – “Your best is good enough” and that has become my musical mantra. My first year as a beginner culminated in a year-end concert at the Glenn Gould studio (yes – you read that right!). All levels joined together for the finale and played Ravel’s Bolero. The beginner flutists had to count 84 bars before we even entered the piece and then from that point to the end we played a single note for the remainder. The applause was thunderous. I was in a state of shock. I exited the stage and said to one of my band friends “Did we just play Bolero at the Glenn Gould Studio?” Most surreal moment ever!
The New Horizons International Music Association, is the umbrella organization supporting more than 200 New Horizons chapters in the U.S. and Canada and a couple of winters ago, I joined the band in St. Petersburg, Florida for their weekly practice. Not surprisingly, I met a large number of Canadian snowbirds who also didn’t want to miss their weekly classes back home. There are currently 7 bands and approximately 200 people in the Toronto NHB. Day and evening beginners, intermediate and advanced, and a Saturday morning Jazz band. Each class meets once a week for two hours. Along the way we have become friends. We have enjoyed a medley (see what I did there!) of social activities from movie days, themed bowling parties and an outstanding annual celebratory ‘’graduation’’ BBQ. We have performed at Harbourfront, Seniors’ Residences, Street Fairs, and for each other in our annual Chamber Sweets musicale. We travelled together to Ottawa to share a weekend of workshops, and a lot of sight reading and performing with the Ottawa NHB. Our year-end concert showcasing our accomplishments is now held at St. Michael’s College Auditorium to a sell-out crowd. Our band caught the attention of a filmmaker who followed us for a year and created a documentary called The Beat Goes On. It aired on TVO recently and brought home to me that yes – we are lifelong learners and we make music. (http://tvo.org/video/documentaries/the-beat-goes-on)
I used to suffer from Sunday night syndrome – that feeling of growing anxiety heading into another work week. My experience has taught me that having something to look forward to is an important component of happiness. So now I absolutely welcome my Monday morning practice. It is right up there with the best activities of my week. There have been countless moments when the music soars and my heart goes with it. Research is trumpeting (I did it again!) a growing body of evidence which shows that music-making supports positive mental and physical health. I am so grateful to have discovered an activity at this stage of my life (Act III) that satisfies my needs creatively, cognitively, socially and often spiritually.
My advice to you is to pay attention to your inner voice that says – I would love to play golf, do pilates or yoga, learn to play bridge, join a French conversation club, sign up for a Pottery class, start a book club – or learn to play the clarinet. The sense of accomplishment you will feel by learning something new is sublime. Music, sports, academics or art – it’s never too late.
P.S. – Yes, I say flutist.Resources for continuing ed: www.newhorizonsbandtoronto.ca (Toronto) http://newhorizonsmusic.org/ (International) www.alliance-francaise.ca (French) www.ryerson.ca/Continuing-Education http://learn.utoronto.ca/courses-programs www.tdsb.on.ca/AdultLearners.aspx