"....Especially when you're old" - Patti Liszkay
In last Sunday's New York Times Op Ed section there was an essay by author Gerald Marzorati entitled "Better Aging Through Practice, Practice, Practice". Mr. Marzorati's message was that for senior citizens, while doing crossword and other mind puzzles and getting mild exercise may or may not help stave off memory loss and poor health, the best way to "recast and strengthen" one's brain and improve one's life in old age is to "find something - something new, something difficult - to immerse yourself in and improve at."
Gerald Marzorati goes on to say:
"I am talking about improving at a demanding skill or set of skills - a craft, a discipline. I have in mind something that will take years to get proficient at, something that there is a correct way of doing, handed down for generations or even ages, and for which there is no way for you to create shortcuts with your cleverness or charm. Playing the cello. Or cabinetry. Or...tennis, serious tennis."
And then you've got to practice, practice, practice.
I can't tell you how many times older adults, upon learning that I teach piano, have told me that they always wished they could play an instrument; and yet when I subsequently launch into my "It's Never Too Late Too Learn Anything" schpiel, preaching about the many adults I've taught to play the piano, including a 70-year-old retired surgical nurse who after three years of lessons was zipping through Czerny's velocity exercises, they smile politely while their eyes glaze over and their brains zone out.
I think most of us oldsters aren't really in the market for starting anything new and challenging, even if we did have the time and the money. Most of us just don't feel like doing the practice, practice, practice (for the love, haven't we had enough to do already?) and we don't have parents around anymore to make us.
And besides, we're too scared.
In his article Mr. Marzorati cites a psychological study concluding that children are often inhibited from making a commitment to continuous improvement in a skill because they are afraid of being judged as not being smart or good enough. But older adults, he claims, have the advantage of no longer having any reason to be inhibited by the perceptions of others.
And yet I've found the opposite to be true; children, though they may not like practicing or taking piano lessons, have no particular fear of not playing well enough; children for the most part just do what they're instructed to do, and everything is what it is.
Adults, on the other hand, generally have a great fear of trying their hand at something new. I see this in my adult students, most of whom tend to be terribly self-conscious and who worry about not being good enough and about making mistakes even though they're only beginners at an endeavor that takes years of practice. They worry even though they're only taking lessons for their own enjoyment and even though they're only playing in front of me, whose job it is to help them improve. And they're terrified of performing at recitals, even though our audience is only a small, friendly group of the students' family and friends, most of whom can't play a note themselves.
Believe me, we adults need three times the assurance and encouragement that children need.
Still, I can attest that there are adults out there, even senior citizens, who do commit to learning piano and who do become proficient at it, and, all that being said, I now feel a hankering to commit to a new endeavor.