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Denise's retirement story

At the age of 50, with 5 years until retirement, Denise started viola lessons. Since then, five and a half years ago, she has performed in 32 concerts, two of which were in China!

09 May 2018

When I considered what I would like to do in retirement, I decided that I’d like to play a musical instrument in the local community orchestra of the regional city in my area. After considering which instrument to choose, I decided, judging by the advanced ages and scarcity of the viola players, that a new viola player might be welcomed in the future.

So at the age of 50, with 5 years until retirement, I started viola lessons, aiming to be at a suitable standard to play in the orchestra by my retirement date. Two weeks before my 55th birthday, my teacher indicated that I was ready for the orchestra. Since then, five and a half years ago, I have performed in 32 concerts, 2 of which were in China “on tour”.

Prior to learning the viola, I had played piano and saxophone in my youth, so the ability to read music before my viola lessons commenced was helpful, however, learning to read music is all about repetition and I’m sure that it’s perfectly achievable to learn from scratch in, or approaching the “3rd Act”. The viola uses the Alto Clef, different to the more commonly used Treble or Bass Clef, so it was a bit like starting from scratch anyway.

After joining the orchestra, I took the opportunity to take on the role of treasurer, so I now have the double joy of playing with numbers on spreadsheets as well! Helping on the administrative side of the orchestra has helped me to learn a whole new perspective on all the behind-the-scenes organisation and logistics that are required for a public performance to occur.

“I am constantly inspired by my playing companion, a retired physician in his 80s.”

I am constantly inspired by my playing companion, a retired physician in his 80s. Despite having played for most of his life, he continues to have regular lessons, always striving to be a better musician. I may never achieve his standard of competency in my lifetime, but I can try!

Last year, I took the opportunity to attend the Cairns Winter Music School (a bit like “Band Camp” for adults). Rehearsing and performing Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony with musicians from all over the country, under the baton of an international conductor, was a new and very challenging experience. I do have to confess to some “air bowing” though in the very difficult final movement!

So I can highly recommend this type of new activity particularly if there is the opportunity to join a local orchestra (or band). I have found the orchestras I have played with to be wonderful communities of like-minded people with ages varying from pre-teen to their 90’s. Every lesson, rehearsal and concert brings a new challenge to keep my brain very active.

My only advice is to be prepared to commit to regular practice for the duration of your playing life (holidays excepted), and brace yourself for sounding pretty awful for possibly quite some time initially!

PSS Member