August 9, 2011
"Mommy, play a song," my son said the other day, pointing to our piano.
Until recently, I could only play chopsticks. But now that I've started taking piano lessons, I gladly opened my book and pounded out a somewhat simple version of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" to my son's delight.
I've wanted to take piano for a long time, but feared it would be too hard. After all, isn't learning a new skill a young person's game? But according to piano instructor Gail Mangurten, it's often her older subjects who are more focused.
"I have students that range from age 6 to 86," she says. "And that 86-year-old is so dedicated. He comes every week. He didn't start until he was 79 and I think he's only missed three or four lessons in seven years."
Mangurten says the adults are investing their time and money because they want to be there, as opposed to the child being dragged against their will. "Children may pick up the techniques faster because they are younger, but if they are being forced to go, they wind up resenting it," she says.
Marisel Salascruz, director of the St. Louis Cultural Flamenco Society, says her older students can be a breath of fresh air. "They are coming because they made up their mind that they want to learn, and when they commit, they are more serious than the younger people today," she says. "They always tell me the dancing helps their peace of mind. They find it's a way to get away from the stress of life."
And while stress release is one advantage, others say their hobby makes them better in their chosen profession.
"A lot of people are surprised when I tell them I take Flamenco and piano," says Dr. Frida Abrahamian, a gastroenterologist at Stroger Hospital of Cook County. "I started after I turned 40, and I've found that it's been really good for personal development. Most of the time I'm using the left brain as a physician. So it's nice to try things the other way. I feel like I am a more complete person."
Here are some tips if you are considering taking lessons later in life.
Leave old teachers in the past.
"Some students are so afraid of making mistakes because they had a teacher who was so mean in their childhood," says Mangurten. "Tell yourself, 'I'm an adult now. The rules go out the window. I can practice as little or as much as I want, and I can learn whatever kind of music I want. I am the boss.' "
"Every student has a different set of priorities," says Mangurten. "Is this just for a release or do you want to perform in public? . . . Once you open the conversation about which kind of student you are, you won't loathe going to the lesson or worry about disappointing the teacher or yourself."
"Older students might not have the ability to move as fast," says Salascruz. "It's demanding and takes practice and dedication to be good. You can't expect it to happen right away. You have to enjoy the process. If you just want to be on the stage without working hard, it will be disappointing."
Spread the word.
Once you let it be known that you are expanding your skill set by moonlighting as a dancer, others might start doing the same. "Some of my colleagues know what I'm doing and sometimes they joke about it," says Abrahamian. "But dance and music help me develop this type of perception that is helpful in my work. Plus it's fun and it's good for you. If it's something you're considering, you should absolutely do it."
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