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3 minutes reading time (697 words)

The ultimate anti-aging hobby

Professional musicians have always been aware that their chosen profession contributes to a long lifespan, especially if they are pianists. The beloved Arthur Rubinstein continued to perform into his 90s and retired only because of diminishing eyesight caused by shingles. Alfred Brendel performed his final public concert last December in Vienna just before his 78th birthday. The 84-year-old Menahem Pressler concluded a similar farewell tour in September with his Beaux Arts Trio, which had performed for over 50 years. His future plans include solo tours, masterclasses, and more teaching.

Jazz pianists are also living longer, in spite of long hours and difficult performance conditions. Legendary Marian McPartland at age 90 still performs, gives masterclasses, and hosts a weekly syndicated radio show called Piano Jazz. Severe arthritis in her knees keeps her from walking, but she says her hands are fine and she can still play. "I don't mind turning 90," says McPartland. "It beats any alternative I can think of." Jane Jarvis, also a well- known jazz pianist at 93 says, "I still play because I can ease my anxieties at the keyboard."

Composers of today are living longer than at any time in history. Unlike Mozart, who died at 35, distinguished American composer Elliott Carter, known for his keyboard compositions (as well as other mediums) just turned 100. He intends to travel worldwide this year to all the performances of his music as a way to celebrate his birthday. In between trips he will continue working on a new opera. The record holder for longevity among musicians was American pianist and composer, Leo Ornstein. He was still composing up to his death at age 108.

The mandatory retirement age in many symphony orchestras is 70, which may be why I rarely see instrumentalists perform once they reach their mid-70s. Problems with hearing, diminishing lung power, and the challenges of simply holding an instrument make it impractical if not impossible for these seniors to continue playing. The piano, however, just stands on the floor inviting anyone to give it a try regardless of age.

If prospective students think 40 is too old to learn to play the piano, I tell them they are out of touch with the world today. The age of 40 is considered the new 20, and 60 is the new 40. Last year Hallmark Cards sold 85,000 cards saying "Happy 100th Birthday!" I have taught and still teach many seniors, some in their 80s, and I find no difference between them and my younger students. They memorize, perform, continue to develop technique, and play with a depth of expression that is possible only for those who have experienced a long life. People in many societies revere their elders and consider old age a blessing. A few years ago the mother of a student who met me for the first time said, "I had no idea you were so old." In her culture, it was considered a big compliment.

I tell prospective students that they can learn to play the piano at any age, no matter what their situation in life. If they already play, they can learn to play better. Long after a person gives up golf, tennis, or biking, they'll still be able to play the piano - and they won't have to wait for good weather.

Playing the piano increases your life span by keeping the brain active, provides better eye exercise than watching television, boosts your hearing as you learn to listen very carefully, and improves your memory. It also increases coordination, gives your fingers a workout, and lifts your mood. You can even play the piano if you are handicapped or ill. My favorite quote is from a student who played the piano in a wheelchair: "As long as I can play the piano I know I'm alive," she said.

My message to anyone who cares to listen is that if you don't have a piano, buy one. It's a great investment. If you already have one, don't save it for your grandchildren; get it tuned, find a teacher, and go for it! No matter what your age, I guarantee it will add extra years to your life. 

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Reflections on a remarkable career
Praise for nothing means nothing
 

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About Piano Magazine

Piano Magazine is the leading resource for pianists, piano teachers, and piano enthusiasts. We bring you informative, interesting, and inspiring ideas on all aspects of piano teaching, learning, and performing. The official name of Clavier Companion magazine was changed to Piano Magazine in 2019.

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