August 14, 2013 at 1:42 PMWe are many. Roughly a quarter of my adult acquaintance has expressed a desire to learn an instrument, or to revisit a musical past. They all tell me how brave I am, and sigh in frustration over their own lack of resources. My words to them are always “try it anyway”. No regrets, right? I’d rather fail than regret that I did not try.
It’s not easy, picking up an instrument for the first time while trying to balance a marriage, family, career, and an active social life. I can see why so many choose to ignore that voice in the back of their head that says “do this”. I couldn’t. The drumbeat repeat of “do this do this do this” would not stop until I acknowledged it.
It can be frustrating. The world in general doesn’t seem take adult beginners even semi-seriously. I contacted three potential instructors before I found one who would entertain the notion. Private instruction has been fantastic, but then the adult student is generally left playing in a vacuum. Opportunities to participate in group playing appear to be limited to young people, or strong musicians looking for structure and acclaim. Sure, there are some informal fiddling sessions scattered around bars; and there are some camps and retreats dedicated to the adult amateur. These can be rather unattainable for someone with so many demands on their time and finances. And while I appreciate fiddle music, and occasionally attempt it (not very well, I’m afraid), my focus is on classical music.
I searched in vain for some kind of beginner-friendly opportunity to play with like-minded individuals, and found that my area doesn’t appear to have such a thing. At least, not one advertised in the media I have searched. Last year, in an attempt to create such an opportunity, I reached out to some musically inclined friends who were willing to give it a shot. Unfortunately, I set too heady a goal for which we were not equipped, and the endeavor fizzled after the first meeting. Ugh. Failure – but no regrets.
Then this summer I met some people like myself during a camping trip. For the better part of a week we met informally each day with no goal other than to attempt to play music together for an hour. We didn’t worry about playing to an audience. There was no expectation of a certain skill set. We just picked some likely pieces and played for the joy of it. It was one of the biggest highlights of my musical journey to date.
In order to recreate that experience at home, I contacted a group of friends on Facebook and suggested we try it. We met last night as an offshoot of a larger gathering. Again, the only goal was to attempt to play together and have fun. This time, it worked. Together, two violins, a recorder, a mandolin, and two vocalists sat at a table in the corner and made music. It wasn’t always beautiful, or on key, (heck, some of us had different versions of the music) but it was fun. So much fun, in fact, that several other musicians wandered up and asked if they could come next week. “Of course!” we said. “Come join the party.”
I’m not the right person to start a grass-roots program for adult amateur musicians. But a growing number of us are out there. You probably know a few. If you reach out, we will reach back. Opportunities are thin on the ground for those of us not in the rarified atmosphere of professional musical enterprise. Consider holding an informal jam session and see who shows up. You might be pleasantly surprised.
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