A NEVER-ENDING BATTLE: AGE AS A BLESSING OF CREATIVE OPPORTUNITY...OR ONLY A DEATH SENTENCE?
Updated: Aug 8
Am I past my "sell by" date?
Let's just start out with a never-ending stereotype of what aging means in America today, by citing this shocking fact (according to an August 4, 2023 article in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association "JAMA"):
In one study of medical students and residents training at two urban teaching hospitals in northern California:
Negative medical student perceptions held by medical students regarding older adults included that they were:
-- inherently ‘end of life’
-- cognitively impaired
-- socially ‘needy’
-- ‘slow’ to interact with, and
-- their medical problems unlikely to be resolved
Now if that -- believed by the future doctors of America -- does not completely frost companions in my senior and/or retired status, I don't know what will!
These perceptions are likely to be wide spread in society in general, even as geriatrics is in obvious decline as a medical practice specialty including Board certification, as reported in JAMA. This, despite the fact that in the US the share of the population age 65 and over has risen to almost 17% in 2021 from 13% in 2010. In that same period, the age group 65 and over was the fastest growing of all, increasing by 38% while the age group 0 to 4 declined the most, dropping almost 7% to about 6% of the US population (see usafacts.org).
In other words, apparently when we seniors need medical assistance the most (according to how medical students judge us), those same medical students are abandoning us in droves!
Maybe medical schools should add a second element to the Hippocratic Oath to "do no harm":
"You are also required to focus your practice choices and ethics on helping most, the weakest and least able."
I theorize that this never-ending non-factual stereotype about the lack of health and vitality of the aging population contributes to the common perception that adult amateur pianists (and instrumentalists) - especially "those of a certain age" who play out of pure love and not to earn a living, compete, or demonstrate pianistic prowess on stage - are somehow "lesser than" younger conservatory students or those on a graded course tract.
Even those claiming to be "liberated" from discriminatory stereotypes, sometimes unwittingly fall prey to social stereotyping and contribute to the harm. Not long ago a friend was discussing the nature of piano students taught by his good friend "Ms. X." The friend proudly commented that Ms. X's young piano students were very "serious" students.
Meaning and implying, of course, that I as a senior amateur, was certainly not a "serious" piano student! It wasn't an intentional, conscious slight to be sure, but it was unthinking, careless, and felt as a cruel one.
Of course I pushed back as gently as I could when trying to preserve a possible friendship. This person admitted the error of their ways, but none-the-less the stereotype and prejudice had been revealed. Hard to stamp out long-standing social messaging that deeply embeds itself in our subsconcious.
It takes conscious intention to extinguish such prejudices, including those about aging being a debilitating, rather than a liberating, process.
I find age to be liberating.
As I near my 80th birthday in November, I find more bliss than ever before in having time and the freedom to choose and focus on creative pursuits after retirement. These include the arts of many kinds, including spending long hours listening on YouTube to piano concerts and reading musician's biographies, as well as taking zoom music classes that I had no time for in my college or earlier work life days. Soon I'll pursue classes at local colleges and universities in person, I'm sure, as well as take advantage of usually-free concerts by students at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the SF Community Music Center. (I found the six symphony performances and recitals I attended this past season were less than satisfying, a topic for another blog). I'll keep reaching out to establish personal friendships where I can happily celebrate my discovery of new musical treasures and instrumentalists who make my heart sing, or ask questions or find answers regarding pianism and theory, and engage in deeper discussions about what makes for "good" and passionate music. And of course, I'll continue to play my beloved Duchess, as much and when I can!
Over the past two years of "serious" piano lessons, I made a few friends and also as happens in life, a few have moved on for various reasons from other priorities appearing in life or a disconnect of some kind, but I don't feel myself to be "socially needy" or in "cognitive decline."
I'm not even sure what and when "end of life" or "decline" even comes about; can you define exactly that stage or age when they start (even if we do know in the larger picture just how life will end)?
I enjoyed socializing with one of my mother's closest friends Mildred, and today love socializing with another of her closest friends, Nancy. Mildred passed about two years ago just after her 101st birthday. When my partner and I would go to visit, she would take out her Scrabble board and proceed to beat the pants off of us both, scoring amazingly high ending scores. It was embarrassing -- for us! We loved her lively discussions of politics, philosophy, educational theory, and more. We visit Nancy and her daughter now and both women will attend my 80tieth birthday party later this year. Nancy just turned 96 and was a University professor of English for many years. She's an incredibly vibrant feminist and loving, and kind person; just like with Mildred, we love discussing all sort of politics and other topics with her.
Both ladies, as well as pianists like Ruth Slenczynska and Livia Rev, inspire me. (Listen to one of my favorite Rachmaninoff pieces, "Daisies" played with particular tenderness and elan by Sclenczynska, and perhaps my favorite of all Liszt pieces, "Liebestraum" played by Rev, both aged 96 or 97 when recorded (I'm not so enamored with Rev's floppy wrist technique since I'm now studying the Taubman gestural technique, but Rev made her gestural means work quite well.)
Clearly music is a unifying and uplifting creative experience that can be enjoyed in many ways by those of many ages. Since I'm unsure when exactly I will be "aging" and "in decline," I think I just won't worry about it at all, but will carry on and let my passion rise as it always seems to do when it comes to music!
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