It’s Time to “Dust Off Your Chops!”

Music Teacher Retirees: Participate in a Community Band or Orchestra!

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(Reprinted from the Fall 2015 PMEA News, the state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association)

“Music lasts a lifetime!”

“Music makes me ____!”

“Make time for music!”

“Music touches lives!”

“Music is basic!”

band-musicians-1423023More than titles of PMEA/NAfME/MENC conferences or past themes of Music in Our Schools’ month, these concepts bring us back to the roots of why we became musicians and music teachers in the first place.

When a music educator retires, among the many joys and fruits of his/her career-long investment in labor is a sudden life-style change – the glorious transformation of being set free from those things you no longer want nor need to do (routine day-to-day drudgery, paperwork, etc.) and embarking on new journeys to explore and embrace revised personal goals – hopefully including a renewed refocus on making your own music!

Besides being personally fulfilling and simply “fun,” regular sessions of making music are good for you! Citing numerous sources in her Association for Concert Bands (ACB) President’s Message “Enriching Lives Through Music” in The Journal of the Association of Concert Bands (Vol. 31 No. 2 June 2012 – see http://www.acbands.org/shellenberger-letters), PMEA Retired Member and ACB Past President Judy Shellenberger spotlights the importance of singing or playing music at any age, and its effect on “our brain’s system of neural pathways that improve our general measure of intelligence and longevity.” According to the Society for Neuroscience, one example of this is that “learning to play a musical instrument refines the entire neurological system. It demands precise movement of muscle groups and combinations of physical processes such as breathing, fingerings and articulations all at the same time.”

flute-player-1506263-1920x1440Additional quotes from Shellenberger’s letter include a contribution from Dr. Katrina McFerran, Melbourne Conservatory of Music, reminding us of the value of creative expression and ensemble participation in our lives. “Making music allows you to put your real self out there and be heard. Group music making is truly empowering and should be an essential part of the human experience,” she said. “For those performing in community bands, making music has a stronger relationship to health than listening does, and performing enables us to make stronger social connections.”

Shellenberger goes on to say, “In order to function optimally, we need to nourish our brains with nutritious food.” In his book, Use Your Brain to Change Your Age: Secrets to Look, Feel, and Think Younger Every Day, Dr. Daniel Amen states, “We must exercise and challenge our brains. Doing crossword puzzles are great but not enough, we need to stimulate our memories.” Shellenberger concludes with the essential justification that “new music challenges our brains. Every time we learn a new rhythm pattern, we challenge our brain and when we memorize the passage, it increases our brain circuitry to a higher level.”

celloman-in-pause-1420972The late June Hinckley, former MENC President, lamented the tragedy when people fail to make music a vital component of life beyond the school years. In her April 2000 article “Music for a Lifetime” in MENC Teaching Music, Ms. Hinckley affirmed her view that music is a life-skill worth nurturing. She said, “I believe we need to be as concerned about community music programs as we are about school music, and to work with leaders to help them understand the vital role each plays in the cultural, social, and aesthetic fabric of our towns and cities as well as in our preschools and K-12 institutions. If music is basic, then it is basic to life’s many ages and stages, before, during, and after school for toddlers, school-age youngsters, and adults.” And retired members!

So, which pretext do you use to “put off” joining a community instrumental ensemble? The top ten “lame” excuses for not participating in a community band or orchestra may be:

  1. I haven’t played for years.
  2. My spouse’s “honey-do” list is too long.
  3. I can’t find my instrument.
  4. I turned my clarinet into a lamp.
  5. My dog howls at me when I play.
  6. I’m too busy! My calendar is full.
  7. I have arthritis, or the pressure is changing, so my shoulder, wrist, leg, arm (or whatever) hurts.
  8. I need new reeds… strings… drum sticks… some valve oil.
  9. I haven’t practiced all week (or month).
  10. There are no opportunities to perform in my area.

jazz-musician-1313572-1279x974Retirees, hopefully a few of these are not nostalgic – bringing back memories of the justifications for not practicing you may have heard from your own music students!

For some of us, the biggest obstacles of re-awakening our love of music and seeking hands-on experience playing in a band and orchestra are overcoming a little inertia, avoiding the blind acceptance of (bad) habits, and not being resigned to the myth that “our busy days and nights won’t allow us enough time” or that “we just have not played lately and feel very rusty!”

What is it about amateur music making that seems to be so intimating? Why do so some people think they have to be a virtuoso or “perfectly prepared” before participating in an ensemble? A few groups like the Community Band South (based in Upper St. Clair, Pittsburgh) generally have a “no student instrumentalists” membership policy. (With their hours of in-school rehearsals every week, most high school players have “major chops” and can usually play circles around “the seniors!”) Did you know there is a group in PA called RTO, which literally means “Really Terrible Orchestra?” (But, before you jump to any conclusions, better ask the members how they sound today.) Finally, does anyone remember Portsmouth Sinfonia, the “spoof” ensemble whose members earned recognition performing (badly) on non-major instruments?

old-band-young-fan-1502738The first big step about getting involved in a community band or orchestra is simply going out and doing it. Dive in! Remember how much FUN it was to surround yourself with like-minded and motivated musicians, all “making connections,” “coming together” and collaborating in an “ensemble,” exploring and interpreting new music and the classic band and orchestra masterworks, and regularly learning new skills of technique and expression on an instrument?

To facilitate finding an ensemble in Pennsylvania, please go to the PMEA website, click on “focus areas” and “retired members.” See http://www.pmea.net/retired-members/. This directory of PA community bands and orchestras will be updated (new groups added) from time to time. (Please clarinet-shots-1412621-1599x1066send any corrections or additions to paulkfox.usc@gmail.com.) Another excellent resource (especially for contact information) is a link posted on the Association for Concert Bands website: http://www.community-music.info/.

Happy trails, retired members, and enjoy the resurgence of your renewed personal music making!

PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox

Advice from Music Teacher Retirees to Soon-To-Be Retirees

Tips and Resources on Bridging That Transition to Retirement

“Your problem is to bridge the gap which exists between where you are now and the goal you intend to reach.” – Earl Nightingale

Retirement is a life-changing event, perhaps the most significant “final transition” in our lives involving an ongoing process of emotional adjustment.

The research of counseling psychologist Dr. Nancy K. Schlossberg is worth reading. She identified the following ways in which people approach retirement, as quoted at http://www.apa.org/research/action/retire.aspx:

  • Continuers who continued using existing skills and interests;
  • Adventurers who start entirely new endeavors;
  • Searchers who explore new options through trial and error;
  • Easy Gliders who enjoy unscheduled time letting each day unfold;
  • Involved Spectators who care deeply about the world, but engage in less active ways;
  • Retreaters who take time out or disengage from life.

Soon after being appointed to the position of Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) State Retired Member Coordinator, I realized that we have three types of PA music teacher retirees responding to the challenge of this time-honored passage:

  • People who do not see themselves as retired, just leaving a full-time job in music education, and moving on to new goals, employment, and/or volunteer work.
  • People who are relieved from the stress of day-to-day employment, and now feel ready to fill and complete new “bucket lists,” spend more time with family, travel, and hobbies, and perhaps even explore several new areas/levels/skills in music and education.
  • People who are happy to leave the profession and want nothing to do with any part of music education or PMEA.

With the exception of the latter group, it is worth repeating the message I wrote in my Winter 2015 article in PMEA News:

“PMEA has a lot to offer, and, in return, we retirees can ‘give back’ in a way that is both meaningful and beneficial to our professional association. It comes to no surprise that PMEA retirees have filled numerous district and state officer, committee chair, council, and ex-officio positions. You know what they say – What we know in our little pinkies….”

There are numerous opportunities to “lend a hand” or “keep our feet wet” in our profession:

  • Sign up for the PMEA Retired Members’ Retiree Resource Registry (R3) to share your vast wealth of teaching experiences and expertise, archiving your special skills, interests, awards, and past professional assignments, and being willing to be called upon to serve as an informal adviser or go-to person for help. Complete the survey at https://pmea.wufoo.com/forms/pmea-retiree-resource-survey/.
  • Volunteer to serve as presiding chair or member of the planning or listening committees for the PMEA In-Service Conference.
  • Participate as a guest lecturer or panel discussion member at a conference or workshop.
  • Judge PMEA adjudication festivals.
  • Offer to help plan or manage a local PMEA festival or workshop.
  • Accompany, coach or guest conduct music festivals or local school ensembles.
  • Call up the local music teacher and offer your help in music technology, instrument repair, etc.
  • Submit articles to PMEA News.

Additional suggestions from successfully retired members were sent and shared in PMEA News (Summer 2015) :

  1. To prepare yourself for retirement, have something in place to do – private teaching, performing, traveling, and/or volunteering.
  2. Have a plan! Figure out some idea of what you want to do with the rest of your life after teaching.
  3. Build your social network of friends, colleagues, and people with which you want to continue spending time. Relationships are important in retirement.
  4. Stay involved in music – somehow. Once retired, you can revisit your roots in creative self-expression (the things that inspired you to become a music teacher in the first place), while avoiding the day-to-day stress and routine of your former job assignments.
  5. Do not micromanage or “try to help” the new guy appointed to your position. If (and only if) your replacement asks, perhaps you can meet for breakfast or lunch to “pass on the baton,” offering to share with him/her where are the closets (if not the skeletons), and information for smooth transition such as the location of the music library database, curriculum guide, classroom instruments, etc. However, keep in mind it is not your responsibility nor is it appropriate to give the newcomer philosophy, methodology, or minute details on how or what to do in your former job. The new professional is not you (and probably will make many mistakes), and will have to find his/her own way to realize success in the position.
  6. Travel to those places that you always wanted to see but never had the time. Try a warm sunny place in the winter and see what your students always enjoyed while you were stuck in the classroom during January and February.
  7. Get involved in advocacy, either for music education or something else that is important to you.
  8. For assistance in making the smooth transition to retirement, read the Fall 2013 PMEA News article “Retirement – Now What?” archived on the Retired Member section of the State PMEA website (http://www.pmea.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Retirement-Now-What-in-PMEA-News-Fall-2013.pdf). Also review the other links posted on the same site.

Be sure to read the other retirement blogs on this site, “Are You Ready? Thoughts on Retirement for Music Teachers” (July 2, 2015) and “Retirement, Exercise, and Balance” (July 6, 2015).

Finally, peruse the following links and books which analyze the psychology and stages of retirement, and provide thoughtful recommendations for happiness and fulfillment after a career of full-time employment. Happy trails, retirees!

Sample of Online Links

Honey I Am Home – for Good – Ohio State University Extension (by Kirk Bloir): http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/5000/5159.html

Stages of Retirement – Ohio State University Extension (by Christine Price): http://ohioline.osu.edu/ss-fact/0201.html

3 Ways to Successfully Transition into Retirement – U.S. News and World Report Money (by Dave Bernard): http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/on-retirement/2012/12/07/3-ways-to-successfully-transition-into-retirement

Journey Through the Six Stages of Retirement – Investopedia (by Mark P. Cussen): http://www.investopedia.com/articles/retirement/07/sixstages.asp

Transition into a Healthy Retirement – SPARKPEOPLE (by Rebecca Pratt): http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/wellness_articles.asp?id=396

25 Things to Do When You Retire – U.S. News and World Report Money (by Phil Taylor): http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/on-retirement/2011/02/11/25-things-to-do-when-you-retire

Emotional Stages of Retirement – Ameriprise Financial: https://www.ameriprise.com/retire/planning-for-retirement/retirement-ideas/emotional-stages.asp

Life After Retirement – What Do I Do Now? – Forbes (by Mike Lewis): http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikelewis/2013/10/22/life-after-retirement/

Thinking About Retirement? Time to Think About Your Psychological Portfolio – American Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/research/action/retire.aspx

Behavioral and Psychological Aspects of the Retirement Decision – U.S. Social Security Administration: http://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/ssb/v71n4/v71n4p15.html

Psychological Effects of the Transition to Retirement – University of Alberta (by John W. Osborne): http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ969555.pdf

Recommended Books to Read

How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free by Ernie Zelinski

How to Love Your Retirement: The Guide to the Best of Your Life by Barbara Waxman

The Joy of Retirement: Finding Happiness, Freedom, and the Life You’ve Always Wanted by David Borchard

The Joy of Not Working: A Book for the Retired, Unemployed and Overworked by Ernie Zelinski

65 Things to Do When You Retire by Mark Evan Chimsk

PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox