Those Were the Good Ol’ Days

The “E” in RETIREMENT is for Energy, Engagement, Excitement, and Endurance

This blog is all about how to stay young and vibrant – BECOMING A VOLUNTEER! Geared to those of us who have retired, this is very personal and unique to every individual, no matter what the age!

Do you remember the song, “Those Were the Days” performed by Mary Hopkins (1968), the Fifth Dimension (1969), and even Dolly Parton (2000)?

Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way.
La la la la
Those were the days, oh yes those were the days

In June 2021, I went back to work. Well, not exactly full-time… but it felt that way!

Remember the times as music educators we spent 15-18 hours a day or more thinking, planning, creating, teaching, problem-solving, schlepping stuff, sweating, and working out beyond the regular school day and during summer months with major music projects like the marching band, spring musical, music adjudication trip, etc.?

Asked by my friend and current Upper St. Clair School District performing arts curriculum leader/HS band director Dr. John Seybert, I signed on to the newly-expanded extracurricular activity (ECA) position as administrative assistant and announcer of the marching band for the school from which I had retired. Filling in the gaps, taking attendance, handling mounds of paperwork, interacting with a whole new generation of music students, and learning a few new software applications along the way like FamilyID, Canvas, Remind, and the district’s Blackboard website, I threw my hat in the ring, not just to continue to serve as the voice of the “Pride of Upper St. Clair” at football games halftime shows (now in my 36th year), but to manage the full schedule of rehearsals, meetings, performances, and blessedly (?) exhausting 24/7 week-long band camp. I forgot how it felt to get up at 6 a.m. and return home around 9:30 p.m.

It has been exhilarating. It has been exhausting!

On another stage, when the local COVID stats fell two months ago, I was invited back to our local community hospital to serve as a volunteer – discharging patients from their rooms or escorting them from the outpatient surgery or endoscopy units. Yes, I was called upon to somehow restore the physical demands I (used-to) place on my personal stamina. Fully fatigued and expended after a shift of 4-7 hours of driving my wheelchair taxis (sometimes carrying over-sized people even though we’re only supposed to move those weighing 250 pounds or less), I find myself yearning for a retiree “power-nap,” only to regroup for the next day’s challenging schedule and another early-morning wake-up.

The best part of these 8-15 hours per week? Choosing one of the finest medical facilities in our metropolitan area – St. Clair Hospital (now “Health”) – I have the chance to meet former music students (grown up), their kids, parents and grandparents, friends, and other acquaintances at their greatest need. And, there’s almost no finer escort “call” than going to the family birth center and bringing to the car a new mommy and two-day-old baby… sharing that special moment with an alum or school staff member!

It has been exhilarating. It has been exhausting!

WHAT

In past articles on a satisfying retirement, I often quote the book How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free, the search for self-reinvention and new avenues for fulfilling those essential needs of “purpose, structure, and community” that employment had previously provided us. Author Ernie Zelinski’s definition of “purpose” are these goals:

  • To make a difference in people’s lives
  • To make a contribution
  • To find creative expression
  • To take part in discovery
  • To help preserve the environment
  • To accomplish or achieve a challenging task
  • To improve health and well-being

We learn from Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose by Nancy Schlossberg that for retirees it is important to feel “needed” and that pursuits that foster “mattering” are crucial to a positive self-esteem, good mental health, and stable life balance.

It has been suggested that one problem of retirement is that one no longer matters; others no longer depend on us…

The reward of retirement, involving a surcease from labor, can be the punishment of not mattering. Existence loses its point and savor when one no longer makes a difference.”   

– Rosenberg and McCullough

The opposite of “mattering” is feeling “marginalized.” I would rather feel worn-out than useless/ignored/discarded!

In his book Design Your Dream Retirement, Dave Hughes recaps with his four essential ingredients of life balance:

  1. Physical activity
  2. Mental stimulation
  3. Social interaction
  4. Personal fulfillment

If you read my bio in the “about” tab above, I think all would agree: mission accomplished! I’ve made myself extremely busy. (Perhaps I “matter” a little too much?) “It’s a good thing I am retired… I would not have enough time to do all of these things if I still had a job!”

Yes, it FEELS good!

WHY

Now some rationale from the online pundits. First, review the article “Why Elderly People Should Volunteer.” According to the “experts,” volunteering is:

  • Socially beneficial
  • Good for mental cognition
  • Giving back to the community
  • Physically engaging
  • An opportunity to learn something new
  • Flexible
  • A strategy to fill up your day
  • The reason you get out of bed in the morning

Of course, one has to be careful and follow your doctor’s advice on what tasks will not overwhelm you! The CDC and other medical professionals urge adopting a “safe” routine of regular physical activity as a part of an older adult’s life. Check out websites like https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/activities-olderadults.htm and https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00001482.htm. Besides keeping your mind active, increasing your physical activity as a volunteer while “living the dream” in retirement will:

  • Reduce the risk of serious illnesses (heart disease, type II diabetes, and depression
  • Help you manage a “healthy weight”
  • Improve your balance and coordination
  • Decrease the risk of falls or other injuries

Talk with your doctor to find out if your health condition limits, in any way, your ability to be active. Then, work with your doctor to come up with a physical activity plan that matches your abilities. If your condition stops you from meeting the minimum recommended activity levels, try to do as much as you can. What’s important is that you avoid being inactive.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Volunteering is all about being more eleemosynary (adjective defined as “generous, charitable, gratuitous, or philanthropic”). In my workshops on retirement transitioning, I frequently quote two gurus on the benefits of “giving back.”

With a frequently untapped wealth of competencies and experiences, older people have much to give. This fact, coupled with fewer requirements for their time, gives them unique opportunity to assume special kinds of helping roles.

– Mary Baird Carlsen – Meaning-Making: Therapeutic Processes in Adult Development

Our increased longevity and generally better health has opened our eyes to new and increased opportunities to contribute to the betterment of society through civic, social, and economic engagement in activities we believe in.

– Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO of AARP – Disrupt Aging

HOW

But you already knew all of this, right? There are so many ways to “bring it on” and “make a difference” in your “golden years.” (Wow – three cliches in a row!)

There are so many directions you can go to offer your free time to volunteer:

  • Escort at local hospital or nursing home
  • Walk dogs at animal shelter
  • Serve in charitable fund-raising projects
  • Assist food banks and meals-on-wheels agencies
  • Enlist as special advocate for abused or neglected children
  • Work as hospice volunteer
  • Maintain parks, trails, nature habitats, or recreation centers
  • Host an international student
  • Become a youth director, mentor, or scout leader
  • Teach summer school, night classes or Performing Arts workshops
  • Give guided tours or lectures as a docent at a local museum
  • Apply office management and clerical skills to benefit libraries and other nonprofit associations
  • Run a school club (share your hobby)

As trained music educators, we can share our precious skills in creative self-expression :

  • Accompany, coach, or guest conduct school/community groups, college ensembles, or music festivals.
  • Run for office or chair a committee or council of your state or local MEA association
  • Serve as presiding chair or member of the your state’s MEA planning committee or listening committees for the music in-service conferences
  • Participate as guest lecturer or panel discussion member at a conference, workshop, or college methods program
  • Judge adjudication festivals
  • Help plan or manage a local festival or workshop
  • Assist the local music teacher in private teaching, piano playing, marching band charting, sectional coaching, set-up of music technology, instrument repair, etc.
  • Write for your professional organizations’ publications (like PMEA or NAfME)

If you are a retired music teacher and member of PMEA, you could sign-up for the Retiree Resource Registry and serve as an informal consultant to others still “slugging it out” in the trenches. Go to the PMEA retired member focus area for more information.

More sources to peruse on this subject:

Anyway, back to a little “bragging!” At least “yours truly” is holding his own and hopefully contributing what he can to the success and welfare of others! Are you? In my retirement pastime, I refuse to sit idle, binge-watch movies on Netflix, or view hours of boring TV. To quote another song’s lyrics, this “senior citizen” will never lament…

Life is so unnerving
For a servant who’s not serving
He’s not whole without a soul to wait upon
Ah, those good old days when we were useful
Suddenly those good old days are gone
Ten days we’ve been rusting
Needing so much more than dusting
Needing exercise, a chance to use our skills
Most days we just lay around the castle
Flabby, fat, and lazy
You walked in and oops-a-daisy!

“Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast

So, what’s your story?

PKF

iStock by Getty images:

Images from Pixabay:

© 2021 Paul K. Fox

Daily Ten Minute Warmups

The Three T’s to Build Technique, Key Literacy, and Endurance

foxsfiresides

Just like an athlete’s regular workout to achieve specific goals for improvement in form, strength, and stamina, musicians need to adopt consistent practice habits, and apply a daily routine of the Three T’s:

  • Tuning and slow/long-tone warmup
  • Three Scales a Day
  • Technical Etude or Study

Even if time is very limited, the music directors of the South Hills Junior Orchestra recommend that, at a minimum, every musician spends at least ten minutes a day on a regime of playing scales and at least one technical exercise or etude (usually prescribed by a private teacher) to “maintain their chops,” increase flexibility and resilence, and further their technical proficiency.

The TECH TIP #1 outline below provides a suggested framework to follow (especially suitable for violin, viola, cello, and string players, but adaptable to any instrument).

This involves the following approach:

  • Consistent drill (ten minutes a day, seven days a week)
  • Focused drill (no distractions or interruptions, or it doesn’t count)
  • Repetitive drill (many revolutions and repeats)
  • Creative drill (innovative and inventive: new keys, articulations, rhythms, etc.)

 

How to Practice: “Variety is the Spice of Life!”

Key to this formula is venturing out of your “comfort zone” and exploring the entire “Circle of Fifths” – different key signatures (don’t just play in the same key every day), 400px-Circle_of_fifths_deluxe_4.svgMajor and minor scales, and numerous varied patterns:

  • Repeated notes
  • Unique rhythms
  • Slow to fast tempos
  • Slurs
  • Bowings (strings)
  • Intervals (e.g. scales in thirds, etc.)
  • Arpeggios
  • Dynamics and other expressive markings

Other practice strategies have been previously shared here (click on the “fireside” menu above or go to https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/foxs-firesides/), and offer a host of problem solving techniques suitable for instrumentalists of any age and abilty level.

In addition, here are a few more tips for effective practice:

  1. Play your instrument every day, at least 5-7 times per week. Practicing in short amounts daily is more preferable than “cramming.” Developing technique is much like an exercise workout. Teach your muscles by doing a little bit daily.
  2. Set regular time(s) to practice. Consistency is the key to success.
  3. Find a comfortable, well-lit, quiet place to practice.  No television or telephone interruptions!
  4. Practice standing up, not sitting (except cello players). Remember to keep muscles relaxed and loose.  Relaxation and breathing exercises prior to the start of a practice session can be especially helpful.
  5. Use a mirror to visually check your form and technique. Use a recorder to aurally check your playing.
  6. When trying to improve intonation, play SLOWLY. Try to memorize your music or passage, close your eyes or play in the dark.  By restricting visual input, you may help enhance your aural ability, becoming more sensitive and “attuned” to tuning.
  7. Experts say “start slow and small.” After sight-reading (without stopping) your new selection, break it down into “practice goals” and “problem solve.” At each session, focus on a small section or difficult passage(s). Gradually increase your tempos or add more difficult fingerings/positions/bowings. As you learn each section, overlap your practice goals into repetitive longer “run-throughs” of the music.
  8. Test yourself performing “ten-times-in-a-row” with 100% accurate notes, rhythms and articulations.
  9. LISTEN!  If you are having trouble with an orchestra piece, or a new solo work, buy a recording, research it on YouTube, or try to get one from the library. Even better, get multiple recordings of it so you can hear different interpretations. Then, listen to it a lot.  Listen to it in the car, on your headphones while taking a walk, as background music while talking to a friend, during dinner, etc.
  10. seriestoshare-logo-01Don’t forget that the ultimate goal is not to produce the notes you see on the page as you would type in words on a keyboard—the goal is to produce beautiful music.  Listen to yourself and “make music” as you practice.

SHJO’s mission is all about supporting school music programs. (For more information, about the Southwestern PA community ensemble, please visit www.shjo.org.) Consult your band or orchestra teacher, as well as a private teacher (if you have one) for more detailed instruction on warmups, tuning, scale reading, and etude assignments.

 

Sample Scales

If you do not own a scale book, here are a few guides for string players:

Best wishes on setting up a daily ten minute PRACTICE PLAN!

PKF

Tech Tip #1

Three T’s to Build Technique, Key Literacy, and Endurance

  1. Tuning
  2. Three Scales a Day (two Major and one minor)
  3. Technical Etude or Study

What is needed?

  • SmartMusic, eTuner, or other standalone digital tuner
  • Lists of scales in different keys
  • Supplemental materials (such as Essentials for Strings or Essential Elements 2000 for Strings Book 2 p. 44-45)
  • Violin or Viola Etudes: VIOLIN/VIOLA: Wohlfahrt Foundation Studies Book 1 or Wohlfahrt Foundation Studies Book 2*
  • Cello Etudes: Sebastian Lee or Alwin Schroeder*
  • String Bass Etudes: Simandl*

Other instruments: any etude appropriate to your instrument *(ask your private teacher)

Recommendations

  1. Per daily warm-up, perform two Major scales and one minor scale.
  2. Play one scale slow with focus on natural tone production/vibrato and precise intonation.
  3. lay one scale fast with emphasis on articulation or bowing style.
  4. Play one scale using unique rhythmic, slurring, melodic patterns, shifting or in positions.
  5. Play at least one of the above scales in a flat key (Major or minor).
  6. epending on level of achievement, two octaves is the norm; one octave for novices or playing new keys starting on D (violin), G (viola/cello), A (bass) strings, C (all other instruments); three octaves for advanced string students.
  7. Check off the different keys you play on the Circle of Fifths. (The goal is that all string musicians should be able to play scales in keys of 1-5 sharps and 1 to 4 flats.)
  8. Vary your workout to include a range of expressive elements including articulations (staccato, marcato, legato, spiccato, hooked bows, pizzicato) and dynamics (forte to piano).

Definitions

  • Major Scale: Do-1 Re-2 Mi-3 Fa-4 Sol-5 La-6 Ti-7 Do-8 half steps between 3-4 and 7-8
  • Natural Minor: Do-1 Re-2 Me-3 Fa-4 Sol-5 Le-6 Te-7 Do-8 half steps 2-3 and 5-6
  • Harmonic Minor: Do-1 Re-2 Me-3 Fa-4 Sol-5 Le-6 Ti-7 Do-8 half steps 2-3, 5-6, and 7-8
  • Melodic Minor UP: Do-1 Re-2 Me-3 Fa-4 Sol-5 La-6 Ti-7 Do-8 half steps 2-3 and 7-8
  • Melodic Minor DOWN (same as Natural Minor)
  • Speedy Rhythm Drill (looks like an upside-down pyramid): four sixteenth notes per scale note (up and down), three sixteenths, two sixteenths, and one sixteenth
  • Speedy Slur Drill (looks like a normal pyramid): one quarter note (once up and down), two eighth notes slurred played twice, three notes (triplet) slurred played three times, and four sixteenth notes slurred played four times.
  • Slow-Fast drills: four eighth notes followed by four sixteenths (or vice versa)
  • The 2 + 1 Pattern (or 1 + 2): Triplets Do-Do-Re (or Do-Re-Re), Mi-Mi-Fa, Sol-Sol-La, etc. playing the entire scale using a steady beat in a moderate to fast tempo.
  • The 3 + 1 Pattern (or 1 + 3): Sixteenths Do-Do-Do-Re (or Do-Re-Re-Re), Mi-Mi-Mi-Fa, etc. playing the entire scale using a steady beat in a moderate to fast tempo.

 

For a printable copy of this TECH TIP #1, click below:

Music Tech Tips TEN MINUTES A DAY

 

 

© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credit from Pixabay.com: “Fire” by Alexas_Fotos

 

Retirement, Exercise, and Balance

“One in three people 65 and older fall each year in the United States.” Source: Centers for Disease Control (CDC) at http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Falls/adultfalls.html

“Staying active with regular exercise can help seniors improve their health and hang on to their independence longer. Walking is a great way for seniors to fulfill the recommendation of two and a half hours of aerobic activity per week.” Source: Livestrong Foundation at http://www.livestrong.com/article/416885-walking-exercises-for-seniors/

According to the Centers for Disease Control, falls are the leading cause of injuries, fatal and nonfatal, by U.S. seniors. Older adults can stay independent and reduce their chances of falling by adopting the following strategies:

  • Exercise regularly especially to increase leg strength and improve overall balance.
  • Have a doctor or pharmacist review prescriptions and over-the-counter medications for side-effects or interactions that may cause dizziness or drowsiness.
  • Check the eyes at least once a year and update eyeglasses to maximize vision.
  • Reduce household tripping hazards by the adding grab bars inside and outside the tub or shower and next to the toilet, installing railings on both sides of stairways, and improving the lighting in and outside homes.
  • Lower the risk of bone fractures by consuming adequate calcium and vitamin D from food and/or from supplements, doing weight-bearing exercise, and being screened and treated (if needed) for osteoporosis.

The best advice I heard recently about retirement and remaining physically active was contributed to PMEA News (state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association) by colleague Chuck Neidhardt, a retired member of PMEA:

Begin a routine exercise plan, or begin a sport. You don’t have to be good at it – just do it for your health. This is a must for retirees because the exercise we got from walking the hall between our room and our mailbox (or elsewhere in the school) is no longer there. It only takes a short while to begin to add the pounds and lose the strength we had while teaching. Also, be sure to begin a regular regimen of seeing your doctor and having a physical check up at least once a year. 

Since I have retired, I have experienced a few surprises first-hand in maintaining my own physical fitness and stamina.

One would have thought that once we were released from the day-to-day demands of our music programs and school work, we could become “footloose and fancy-free” to enjoy free time and all kinds of physical activity – to the end-result of noticeably improved health, endurance, and vitality in our lives! (After all, have you noticed that the majority of recently retired people seem to look instantly younger, well-rested, and happier?)

What free time? For most retirees, it doesn’t take long to fill up their “dance card” and calendars with social engagements, family obligations, home improvements, yard work, golf/tennis outings, swimming, or other sports, doctor and dental appointments, local concerts and musicals, trips and vacations, systematic sorting/filing/downsizing the mounds of paper (and music) accumulated over 30+ years of teaching – you name it! You’ll hear it frequently lamented by most retired educators: “How did we ever find the time to do everything when we had our job?”

Where’s my stamina? When I was a full-time teacher with numerous extra-curricular activities, I would arrive to school by 7 a.m., teach 6-9 music classes or lessons during the school day, attend faculty, curriculum meetings or after-school ensemble rehearsals until 4:30, run home to get a quick bite to eat, and then more often than not return to school for at least another couple hours for play or musical practices. On most week-nights, lesson planning and prep had to begin at 9:30 or 10 p.m.

All those years and I didn’t even notice that this “rat race” was stressful and physically grueling! (Although, the evidence was there all along… such things like “always being tired” and “feeling stressed!” Really, is it normal for anyone to take only five minutes to eat lunch in his car traveling between buildings? Many itinerant music teachers who are assigned to 2-4 buildings a day may have to catch a quick-snack this way. Even today, if I don’t hold myself back, I can consume a meal in under 10 minutes!)

Now that I have retired and left all of these “bad habits” behind, why is it that volunteering 3 1/2 hours pushing wheelchairs at a local hospital sometimes seems to be more than I can manage? Nap time, anyone?

What’s a healthy solution? The first thing I considered when I retired was something I could never do during my teaching career – go out and buy two (adorable) puppies! Similar to the exhaustive physical demands of babysitting grandchildren, caring for my “Brewster” (yorkie-poo) and “Gracie” (bichon frise) has consumed every free moment! Just look at their picture above and you will instantly know the rationale behind my wife’s and my commitment!

Well, the good news is… now my weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol are down! For me, the secret is dog walking! According to the new app that suddenly appeared during an update of my iPhone iOS, I am now averaging 12,000 steps every day, at least five miles (and some days as many as nine!)… and the lion’s share is due to the doggies! To me, walking is a wonderfully peaceful and reflective stress eliminator, and puts me in a good frame of mind. No matter the weather or the season, my “pups” will help me stick to my plan of low-impact fitness training! Isn’t that why they say pet owners live longer?

In conclusion, retirement is a good time to “pump up exercise!” For more specifics, check out the USATODAY online article at http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2014/01/19/retirees-exercise-physical-activity/4262151/.

Of course, first consult your physician on what type of physical regimen would be good for you!

I will leave you with this summary from the Livestrong Foundation:

Exercise can have profound effects on a senior citizen’s vitality and overall well-being. Staying active can help to reduce pain and stiffness, improve energy levels and increase strength. Older adults who exercise are more mobile and independent. Senior citizens need to get a mix of four types of exercise: endurance, strengthening, stretching and balance. Your routine can be simple and does not have to involve elaborate or expensive equipment.

PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox