Take Up an Instrument-Again
Heidi Lewis, 42, of Fredericksburg, Va., had nurtured a lifelong crush on the deep resonant sounds of the cello, so when her son began lessons she felt regret, thinking she had never learned to play and probably never would.
Next thing she knew, friends and family had chipped in to surprise her with a cello for Christmas. And now, she is a self-confessed "music junkie." "If I miss a week, I'm crazy," she says of the jam sessions organized by her teacher. She also plays with a community orchestra. "It's such a rush to be on stage," she says.
New tricks. Whether it's starting an instrument for the first time or picking up where lessons had left off, pursuing music in adulthood is a growing hobby that attracts a broad spectrum from 20-somethings to retirees, says Antoinette Follett, editor-in-chief of Making Music magazine. A 2006 Gallup Poll found that the fastest-growing segment of music makers today is between the ages of 18 and 34. John Corcoran, a teacher and performer in Northern Virginia, estimates that more than half his students are adults; his oldest pupil is 83. As with learning a language, adults will not pick up a new instrument as easily or have the same motor facility as youngsters, he admits. But, he says, "it's an old wives' tale that you have to begin by the age of 7. When people tell me they're too old to start, I say, 'Well, if you're 40, how good do you think you can get in the next 30 or 40 years?'" At 78, New Yorker Evelyn Goodman decided not to delay starting piano lessons, and after two months, she can play a simplified "Can-Can" and has discovered she has "more ability than I thought." Besides, recent studies suggest that making music can provide a multitude of health benefits. "You basically stave off senility because you're constantly exercising your attentional system," says Daniel Levitin, professor of neuroscience and music at McGill University. In addition to helping reduce stress, playing can improve eye-hand coordination.
And music is a great leveler. At Briggs & Stratton, the Milwaukee-based engine manufacturer, CEO John Shiely, 54, is just another guitar player when he strikes up a tune with the union workers and managers who make up the Briggs Bluesbusters band. "It blows a hole in the perception of the CEO being stuffy and distant," he says. "Nobody pulls rank; there is no discussion of corporate issues. It's all just music."
This story appears in the December 25, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.