Setting yourself challenges, stepping outside your comfort zone, learning new skills, all good things for the retired person and I’ve written about them before although with a cautionary addendum along the lines of don’t set the bar too high, fail and damage what may be an already fragile self-esteem. Phew, that’s quite an opening sentence. I’ve taken the time to write it because I am, once again, pushing out the boat challenge-wise. Here is a danger that I’m making my retirement a lot more stressful than it needs to be but then I am a driven man. At the recent summer school, which went reasonably well, I left with my self-esteem relatively undamaged. I also met a tenor sax player, let’s call him Jim, who invited me to join a fortnightly session of a few jazz players in nearby Otley at the Woolpack Music Studios (see above). I admit I was flattered and he’d heard me play the piano so it wasn’t an entirely blind decision on his part although we were at opposite ends of the room so maybe my sound improved with distance.
I’ve started writing this on the Saturday before the meeting on Monday. If I wait until after the session there’s a real possibility that I won’t have time to write it before my self-imposed deadline of Tuesday morning, so I’m at least starting it now. In terms of how it goes and all the emotional consequences that go with it, that will have to wait until Monday afternoon. What I can say is, at this distance, I am nervous. It’s not going to be easy. The good news is that Jim has sent me the four tunes we’re going to be playing. In theory that means I have a little time to practise before the first session. The rest of the group have been playing together for a while, so I gather, so I’ll very much be the new boy – again – story of my life, especially when you set your new challenges in retirement. The not so good news is that the sheet music (we musicians call them lead sheets) he sent me are in Eb and the piano version would be in C concert.
Not sure what this means? Not to worry it simply means that before I can even begin to practise the tunes I have to transcribe them into ‘my’ key. Not impossible but a bit of a grind. At least if I do this I won’t simply be turning up, having the lead sheet plonked in front of me and expected to get on with it. Against this it means I can’t use the excuse of, sorry, I’ve not seen this before, as is the case at summer-school and other classes. Talking of summer-school I guess I will be able to rate this gathering using the same criteria – how much learning happened, did I have fun, was the social interaction good and what was my response / how did I cope with this new challenge? At least nobody can accuse me of taking the easy route through retirement. I’ll write the rest of this blog after the session.
Well, I’m writing the remainder of this blog on Monday afternoon, in other words after the jazz session in Otley at the venue above. So you’ll be wondering how it went, at least I hope you are. In a word, it went well enough. There was no dream come true or a star is born about the experience. I was good enough without being brilliant. I suppose I would have preferred brilliant but then I need to think back a couple of years when the likelihood of me taking part in a jazz session like this was extremely unlikely and so give myself a pat on the back for having the chutzpah to be there at all. True, a couple of years ago, I would have been turning up for my Monday night sessions (anybody welcome) with all the angst that entailed but it would have been unthinkable for me to be invited along to a session of other musicians like this one.
It’s too soon, in what may hopefully be an on-going retirement activity, to rate the four areas I mentioned. Socially, there were only four of us as, I’m told, the bass player and drummer are still on holiday. There may be other brass players as well but I’m not sure. The other three players who were there were very welcoming so let’s assume that the ones that weren’t there will be equally as friendly although I appreciate that this may not be the case. I was a bit worried that I might be taking the place of the absent keyboard player so I asked about this situation. The very nice lady said not to worry as he was unlikely to be back as he was ‘too good for us’. Then she said oh, sorry I didn’t mean to be rude. Make of that what you will in term of her opinion of my playing.
I had taken one of my guitars with me in case the aforementioned keyboard player showed up for this session reasoning that the group could accommodate two guitarists but as there was only one keyboard, two keyboard players would be one keyboard player too many. The presence of my guitar case, which incidentally I didn’t unpack, led to another somewhat oblique comment from the guitarist. The one who, when I asked where the toilets were, laughed and said he thought the group should be called the prostate band, Oh how I laughed, and said, well, I’ll fit right in then. Where was I? Oh, yes the guitar player said at the end of the session if I would be more comfortable playing the guitar that would be fine with him as he was, quote, going away for the winter. Much as I hoped he had a nice holiday wherever he might be going, I couldn’t help but be slightly stung by his comment, for obvious reasons I’m sure I don’t need to explain. The nice lady said she hoped I would come back. Let’s leave it there.
So the first of my new challenges completed to a reasonable level of success. The next session is in two week’s time. At this point I will probably go again assuming I don’t get any poison pen emails questioning my right to be in the group or something nastier, not sure what the comments might be because I’ve never done this before which is what I told them in a slightly pathetic attempt to gain compliments (which it didn’t). So is this the missing link? I think not, but in a week or so I’m starting the second term of my jazz piano evening class at Leeds College of Music so there’s definitely something going off jazz-wise. Retirement leads a person to do some strange and uncomfortable things, to set him or herself some interesting challenges. I wonder why?