Almost Intermediate: Adults Learn Lessons In 'Late Starters Orchestra'

Ari Goldman is a member of the Late Starters Orchestra for adults who want to take up a musical instrument. The musicians play in a strictly enforced egalitarian and non-judgmental environment.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

LYNN NEARY, HOST:

By our measure, Ari Goldman is a successful man. A former New York Times reporter turned college professor, he is deeply religious and a happily married husband and father. But for all of that, there was something missing in his life. Goldman yearned to play a musical instrument.

ARI GOLDMAN: The cello is sort of the music of my soul. It's the instrument that speaks most directly to me. I never thought that I would be able to play a cello.

(SOUNDBITE OF CELLO)

NEARY: Now, Goldman does play. He's a member of the Late Starters Orchestra and has written about his experience in a book of the same name. The orchestra is a musical home for adults who have taken up music late in life.

(SOUNDBITE OF CELLO)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICIAN #1: We're doing the Mozart?

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICIAN #2: Do you want to look at the Mozart? It's the hard one. (Laughing) This is the hardest one.

NEARY: Goldman plays in a string trio with two other members of the orchestra, Ron Sharp and Cameron McFadden. They met one recent Sunday morning in a rehearsal studio in New York City. McFadden, who plays both violin and viola, says he first picked up an instrument when he was in fourth grade.

CAMERON MCFADDEN: And I stuck with it for about three weeks. And some of the fifth-graders told me that violin is for sissies. And they emphasized it by punching me in the shoulder. So I quit.

NEARY: McFadden, like a lot of other late starters, was well into adulthood when he started playing again. Ron Sharp took up the violin on a whim when he was 44.

RON SHARP: My friend wanted me to learn the banjo. And she left a musical instrument catalog in my apartment. And I went straight to the page with the violins. And I thought why do I want to have one of these wonderful instrument? They're so beautiful. And I started taking lessons. And I've been taking lessons now for 10 years. And I think I'm almost at the intermediate level now.

(LAUGHTER)

MCFADDEN: OK. I'm ready now.

SHARP: (Laughing) OK. One and two and one and two.

(SOUNDBITE OF STRING TRIO)

NEARY: Ari Goldman was in his twenties when he first began studying the cello.

GOLDMAN: I found it much harder than I ever imagined. I mean, it's wood and strings and only four strings. It looks like hey, this would be easy. But every step is really really hard. And I kept it up for several years in my twenties. And then just the press of life, family, career - I put it away.

(SOUNDBITE OF STRING TRIO)

NEARY: It was many years later, when his youngest child began taking lessons, that Goldman was inspired to try again. Goldman says pretty much anyone who begins seriously studying music after childhood qualifies as a late starter. Age gives them the advantage of maturity and commitment. But learning a musical instrument when you're young is infinitely easier, not to mention it guarantees a more tolerant audience.

GOLDMAN: When a child learns an instrument, he or she has a whole cheering squad. You play for people who come over and you play "Twinkle, Twinkle." Everybody goes wow, that's amazing. That's so wonderful. As an adult, if you play "Twinkle, Twinkle" or "The Farmer in the Dell," people go that's what you do on the cello?

NEARY: What's so important about playing with an orchestra?

GOLDMAN: The cello is a very tough instrument to play. And you have to be really good to play solo. You don't have to be that good to play in an orchestra. And you can suddenly be playing Bach and Mozart and Dvorak, even though you're playing just a little part of it. That is what being part of an orchestra means to me.

NEARY: After the trio finished rehearsing, some new members of the orchestra began trickling in and joined them in making music.

UNIDENTIFIED ORCHESTRA MEMBERS: One and two and three.

(SOUNDBITE OF ORCHESTRA PLAYING)

UNIDENTIFIED ORCHESTRA MEMBER: Eh. You know what? We messed up.

NEARY: They got off to a bad start, but they simply began again.

(SOUNDBITE OF ORCHESTRA PLAYING)

NEARY: Maybe the best thing about the Late Starters Orchestra is this - everyone works hard, but no one expects perfection. The orchestra say cofounders Andrea Lockett and Elena Rahona is strictly egalitarian and non-judgmental.

ELENA RAHONA: You know, all of the people in our group, a lot of them are professionals. They're at the top of their game. They were at the top of their game. And here they are having to really be on the spot. And I think it is a very humbling and exposing position to be in.

ANDREA LOCKETT: And so it's a great act of bravery to come and sort of stand on the cliff and be very exposed in a small group.

UNIDENTIFIED ORCHESTRA MEMBER: Yeah. That was better. That was great.

NEARY: In his book, "The Late Starters Orchestra," Ari Goldman takes us through his own musical journey - from his frustration at not having had the chance to learn as a child through the performance he gave for family and friends on his 60th birthday. And all along, he wondered would he ever deserve to really think of himself as a musician?

GOLDMAN: I am a musician. Now I can say because I have spent this time investing in it - investing in lessons, in practice, in joining the Late Starters Orchestra. It's given me the confidence to say that I am that. I'm a musician.

NEARY: Ari Goldman. His new book is "The Late Starters Orchestra."

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.