There are a lot of things one can complain about when it comes to getting older, and I’m not about to dismiss their significance. But there are some undeniable perks.
A student of mine was rehearsing a new piece recently. The music was written in an excruciatingly slow tempo: 1/8th = 55. She had deliberately chosen this tempo in an effort to get at an extreme sense of the passage – or non-passage — of time.
The ensemble rehearsing the piece was made up of musicians roughly twice the composer’s age. They bristled at the unfamiliar tempo, assuming that the composer, who is actually quite sophisticated, was ignorant of basic musical protocols. My student patiently explained what she was after but, despite her best efforts, was unable to get the musicians on her side. They made a couple of attempts, but never really got close to getting the tempo and the affect that was indicated. If they had, they might have discovered that there was more to the piece than they realized.
Was age a factor? I can’t help but feel that these same performers would have been more willing to dive into the piece if it had come from an older composer. Some level of deference would have been in order.
The older I get, the more I find myself working with, not surprisingly, musicians who are younger than I am. I welcome the change. I’ve learned a thing of two from older colleagues over the years – not nearly as much as I’d like, to be sure, but enough to give me a good head of steam – so now it’s great to get into rehearsal with younger players, explain what I’m looking for and immediately get it, no questions asked.
In fact, I hate to admit it (because it’s more fun to complain), but it feels like I’m at an ideal point these days. I still have a ton of more experienced musicians I can look up to, but I’ve also amassed enough mileage that there are a lot of gifted young musicians who look up to me.
So for any younger musicians out there who are afraid of ossifying when they get into their 50s: be afraid, be very afraid – ossification is definitely something to guard against.
But know also that there is a great deal to enjoy in the ride.