Topic: It's official- Octogenerian declares bassoon sexier than oboe!!!
Adults who abandoned their musical ambitions renewing the interest
By: GARY PULEO, Times Herald Staff
WEST NORRITON - Adults are proving it's never too late to add some harmony to their lives.
And they're doing it by playing an instrument for the first time, or picking up where they left off as kids.
Don Bertolett can't remember exactly why he gave up playing the bass drum after high school. But at 80, he decided it was time to kick things up and disturb the neighbors all over again.
In truth, he said, no lives are being disrupted by his practice sessions.
"I just thought it was something else I could do to get out of my wife's hair," said the Jeffersonville resident, laughing. "I don't get around like when I was 16, but I consider myself a young 80."
A young octogenarian who plays by the weather, that is.
"If the sun is out, I go fishing. If it's raining, I stay home and practice."
Bartolett's renewed interest in music came about through an ad placed by the Community Music School.
The Trappe-based facility, which normally provides music lessons for children, was reaching out to adults harboring dreams of learning an instrument.
Now Bertolett joins a group of fellow retirees at the school every Thursday morning, as part of the New Horizons Band.
According to band director Adam Gaines, adults who study an instrument are self-motivated. They sincerely want to make music, which gives them an advantage over children, who are sometimes taking lessons to appease parents.
"This was originally an idea that (executive director) Edwina French had," Gaines said. "The point of the program is that if you missed out learning how to play in fourth or fifth grade, that's kind of your last chance. And it shouldn't be that way."
Initially, the program was directed at people of retirement age.
"Then people in their 30s and 40s began showing an interest, so the program opened up to any adult," Gaines said. "It's more a matter of scheduling, and many people can't come during the day because they're working."
Adults, at any age, are far better learners than children, Gaines said.
"It's easy to tap into adults' sense of logic and melody and let them use their ears," he noted.
Gaines gives trumpet lessons to kids, so he's in a position to appreciate the vast differences between the age groups.
"It's an entirely different process teaching little ones," he said.
Adults' capacity for analytic thinking improves their ability to learn, Gaines explained. They generally have listened to a lot of music during their lifetime, have developed a greater musical sophistication and are more aware of changes in tonal quality, pitch and style.
"I'm very lucky, because this particular group of adults is very open to exploration and anything I have to say to them," he said. "They're encouraged to play what they can play and not be intimidated. They laugh a lot and it's really about having a good time."
The New Horizons Band recently entertained students at South Elementary School in Skippack with a few tunes, including "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "Love Me Tender."
Bertolett's wife, Mary Jane, was there to cheer him on.
"She doesn't really offer opinions on it," he said with a shrug.
As for the rest of the audience, the lack of hurling objects in his direction indicated they probably enjoyed it.
"They stood up and clapped, and I didn't see any tomatoes come my way," he said.
Though he considers himself a "neophyte" musician, Arthur Stewart feels that his chosen instrument naturally makes a powerful first impression.
"That happens when people see you with a bassoon," he said.
Before he had his first lesson, the newly retired Stewart went out and bought himself a bassoon. That firmed up his commitment to go from mediocrity to mastery.
"I said, 'Well, let's say I'm going to live another 20 years. If I don't do it now, when?' "
The Valley Forge resident had long been intrigued by the bassoon - and the oboe.
Women are more impressed by the former, he said, so he went with that instrument.
Now that he's been playing weekly with a group largely made up of women, how is that decision working out?
"What do you think?" he said with a sly smile.
Gary Puleo can be reached at 610-272-2500, ext. 205, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-Principal Bassoonist, Honolulu Symphony
-Lecturer in Bassoon, University of Hawaii