It’s Time to “Dust Off Your Chops!”

Music Teacher Retirees: Participate in a Community Band or Orchestra!

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(Reprinted from the Fall 2015 PMEA News, the state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association)

“Music lasts a lifetime!”

“Music makes me ____!”

“Make time for music!”

“Music touches lives!”

“Music is basic!”

band-musicians-1423023More than titles of PMEA/NAfME/MENC conferences or past themes of Music in Our Schools’ month, these concepts bring us back to the roots of why we became musicians and music teachers in the first place.

When a music educator retires, among the many joys and fruits of his/her career-long investment in labor is a sudden life-style change – the glorious transformation of being set free from those things you no longer want nor need to do (routine day-to-day drudgery, paperwork, etc.) and embarking on new journeys to explore and embrace revised personal goals – hopefully including a renewed refocus on making your own music!

Besides being personally fulfilling and simply “fun,” regular sessions of making music are good for you! Citing numerous sources in her Association for Concert Bands (ACB) President’s Message “Enriching Lives Through Music” in The Journal of the Association of Concert Bands (Vol. 31 No. 2 June 2012 – see http://www.acbands.org/shellenberger-letters), PMEA Retired Member and ACB Past President Judy Shellenberger spotlights the importance of singing or playing music at any age, and its effect on “our brain’s system of neural pathways that improve our general measure of intelligence and longevity.” According to the Society for Neuroscience, one example of this is that “learning to play a musical instrument refines the entire neurological system. It demands precise movement of muscle groups and combinations of physical processes such as breathing, fingerings and articulations all at the same time.”

flute-player-1506263-1920x1440Additional quotes from Shellenberger’s letter include a contribution from Dr. Katrina McFerran, Melbourne Conservatory of Music, reminding us of the value of creative expression and ensemble participation in our lives. “Making music allows you to put your real self out there and be heard. Group music making is truly empowering and should be an essential part of the human experience,” she said. “For those performing in community bands, making music has a stronger relationship to health than listening does, and performing enables us to make stronger social connections.”

Shellenberger goes on to say, “In order to function optimally, we need to nourish our brains with nutritious food.” In his book, Use Your Brain to Change Your Age: Secrets to Look, Feel, and Think Younger Every Day, Dr. Daniel Amen states, “We must exercise and challenge our brains. Doing crossword puzzles are great but not enough, we need to stimulate our memories.” Shellenberger concludes with the essential justification that “new music challenges our brains. Every time we learn a new rhythm pattern, we challenge our brain and when we memorize the passage, it increases our brain circuitry to a higher level.”

celloman-in-pause-1420972The late June Hinckley, former MENC President, lamented the tragedy when people fail to make music a vital component of life beyond the school years. In her April 2000 article “Music for a Lifetime” in MENC Teaching Music, Ms. Hinckley affirmed her view that music is a life-skill worth nurturing. She said, “I believe we need to be as concerned about community music programs as we are about school music, and to work with leaders to help them understand the vital role each plays in the cultural, social, and aesthetic fabric of our towns and cities as well as in our preschools and K-12 institutions. If music is basic, then it is basic to life’s many ages and stages, before, during, and after school for toddlers, school-age youngsters, and adults.” And retired members!

So, which pretext do you use to “put off” joining a community instrumental ensemble? The top ten “lame” excuses for not participating in a community band or orchestra may be:

  1. I haven’t played for years.
  2. My spouse’s “honey-do” list is too long.
  3. I can’t find my instrument.
  4. I turned my clarinet into a lamp.
  5. My dog howls at me when I play.
  6. I’m too busy! My calendar is full.
  7. I have arthritis, or the pressure is changing, so my shoulder, wrist, leg, arm (or whatever) hurts.
  8. I need new reeds… strings… drum sticks… some valve oil.
  9. I haven’t practiced all week (or month).
  10. There are no opportunities to perform in my area.

jazz-musician-1313572-1279x974Retirees, hopefully a few of these are not nostalgic – bringing back memories of the justifications for not practicing you may have heard from your own music students!

For some of us, the biggest obstacles of re-awakening our love of music and seeking hands-on experience playing in a band and orchestra are overcoming a little inertia, avoiding the blind acceptance of (bad) habits, and not being resigned to the myth that “our busy days and nights won’t allow us enough time” or that “we just have not played lately and feel very rusty!”

What is it about amateur music making that seems to be so intimating? Why do so some people think they have to be a virtuoso or “perfectly prepared” before participating in an ensemble? A few groups like the Community Band South (based in Upper St. Clair, Pittsburgh) generally have a “no student instrumentalists” membership policy. (With their hours of in-school rehearsals every week, most high school players have “major chops” and can usually play circles around “the seniors!”) Did you know there is a group in PA called RTO, which literally means “Really Terrible Orchestra?” (But, before you jump to any conclusions, better ask the members how they sound today.) Finally, does anyone remember Portsmouth Sinfonia, the “spoof” ensemble whose members earned recognition performing (badly) on non-major instruments?

old-band-young-fan-1502738The first big step about getting involved in a community band or orchestra is simply going out and doing it. Dive in! Remember how much FUN it was to surround yourself with like-minded and motivated musicians, all “making connections,” “coming together” and collaborating in an “ensemble,” exploring and interpreting new music and the classic band and orchestra masterworks, and regularly learning new skills of technique and expression on an instrument?

To facilitate finding an ensemble in Pennsylvania, please go to the PMEA website, click on “focus areas” and “retired members.” See http://www.pmea.net/retired-members/. This directory of PA community bands and orchestras will be updated (new groups added) from time to time. (Please clarinet-shots-1412621-1599x1066send any corrections or additions to paulkfox.usc@gmail.com.) Another excellent resource (especially for contact information) is a link posted on the Association for Concert Bands website: http://www.community-music.info/.

Happy trails, retired members, and enjoy the resurgence of your renewed personal music making!

PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox

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