Despite the raging battle on Capitol Hill over health care legislation that threatened the loss of insurance to millions if enacted, a particularly vulnerable population of SENIORS engaged in music study, found sanctuary in a daily connection to the piano. Their “escape” to a universe of loving immersion became a mental prompt at the start of many long distance lessons. With a redirection of anger and frustration into expressive keyboard channels, these “aging” pupils braved a difficult transition of power in Washington (D.C.) without skipping a beat.
From my hub in Liberal, activist Berkeley, while imparting instruction to a Kentuckian at the polar opposite end of the political spectrum, a common musical journey was forged that neutralized our differences within the safe boundaries of a Beethoven Adagio (Sonata Pathetique) As a result, a rapprochement played out despite a house pet’s intrusion upon our conciliatory moments.
The following week, a “Make America Great” Trump rally moved into Louisville, triggering a lesson cancellation and temporary feelings of ill will.
Yet the fleeting relapse of relations was offset by Ludwig’s signature outpouring that promoted an enduring peace over the long haul.
Musical sublimation to new heights of distraction from Fake News and attendant political shenanigans, are not the only benefits of piano study among the over 60 set. Tenacious seniors are awakened to improvements in short and long-term memory as a direct result of a carefully built, layered learning foundation that’s composed of baby step advances.
Decisions and trials related to fingering, for example, tease neurotransmitters out of passivity, creating new “connections” that can have long-lasting effects–that is, if students stimulate them on a daily basis. For seasoned music travelers who fall into the advanced level category, analyses of a J.S. Bach Fugue within the woven texture of interactive voices, is equal to a brain massage generating convolutions to the exponential. Even mapping cadences, dynamic shifts, and noting rudimentary phrase markings, spark neurological gains that carry over from the practice room to life’s many diverse activities.
A cognitive/affective/kinesthetic triad imbued in consistently MINDFUL practicing demands riveted concentration that chases away demons of fuzzy recall and forgotten names of friends who elude aging adults at the supermarket. In a struggle to make word associations in order to retrieve “tip-of-tongue” identities of concerts attended a few months back, or to dredge up the latest telecommunication breach on the Do Not Call list, tenacious, returning-to-the-piano seniors are thankfully assured that the piece placed on the piano rack is the one assigned to them from the previous week. This is a harbinger of promise, since a new composition that has acquired a sacred status among those previously tossed aside prematurely, will survive any *abortive attempts.
(*Right to Life, or Choice partisans, notwithstanding)
In conjunction with a senior’s committed regimen of quality keyboard explorations, many self-labeled “troopers,” will exercise their mind and body away from the piano, in healthful walks, or forays to the local gym.
(“Gym…for the body machine…and Music for the soul is a good Duet.”)–Comments attached by a Facebook friend.
In fact, social interactions in a musical context can transpire in chance meetings on the Yoga mat or in the locker room.
By way of a personal anecdote, I bumped into a NYC High School of Performing Arts (“P.A.”) grad, class of 1958 (a bit before my time), who shot the breeze at the Downtown ‘Y’- forgetting my name only the second time we met at the Gravitron. I returned the fuzzy favor at our third serendipitous encounter by the Universal Gender rest room. She happened to be looking for an able technician to tune and regulate her C3 Yamaha grand, so in a blink, I tapped into my memory bank with rhyme scheme assistance, and retrieved the name of one surviving practitioner who broke a chain of plundering assaults on my Steinway.
Upon my fourth run-in with the “P.A.” alum at the Pull-Up machine, she had voiced gratitude for my sterling referral, but couldn’t quite remember the fellow’s name or what he did. In response, I urged her to practice more regularly given the activity’s benign crossover effect on her brain and memory function.
(For most seniors, the cardiovascular effects of a Mindful focus, with attendant respiratory benefits, are enough to draw them back to the piano bench with alacrity and enthusiasm. It’s a no brainer!)
The Aging piano student and Isolation
Loneliness, an associated cause of unhappiness in the life of a senior, is positively addressed in the sphere of music study. Students far and wide, not only find a human “connection” to music of the Masters, but they often join Piano Clubs to share their love for music. One of my pupils from Edinburgh who relishes the quality of her retirement, is eager to brief me on her latest play date in the convivial community environment of kindred pianists of all levels. Apparently, they listen with empathy and affection, creating enduring bonds that spill over into the Internet transmitted lesson environment. Dreaded “nerves” that might have been a curse in a former life, seem to diminish with each experience of benevolent camaraderie. And it’s worth mentioning, that some retirees, still on detox from grilling, pressure-cooker corporate work environments find relief in an amateur music-making milieu.
Finally, the perks of studying the piano as we age are part of the totality of a life committed to beauty and personal nourishment. In pursuing creative development through patient, graduated steps of musical discovery, seniors become more OXYGENATED and alert, with a renewed appreciation for the bonds they make with friends and family during their reluctant breaks from the keyboard.
“The Relation Between Instrumental Musical Activity and Cognitive Aging”
Oliver Sachs: Thoughts about music and Alzheimer’s disease/Dementia
Musicophelia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sachs