I wrote in a recent blog that one area of retirement around which there was a high level of agreement that it was ‘a very good thing’, was keeping busy. And I have another aspect of retirement, and I’ve written about this before but I’ll say it again, that it is generally agreed is an important one if a person wants to have a fulfilling retirement. This is the importance of continued or life-long learning. When I sat down to plan my retirement and I considered which values I wanted / needed to carry forward into my retirement, this was one of the first on my list, one of the easiest to agree (with myself) upon. I had always enjoyed learning new stuff when I was working, for me it went hand in glove with another key value – being creative or having ideas. All that said I have to confess, not for the first time, that I’m struggling to live my retirement in line with, what would seem to be, a relatively easy-to-achieve value. Hmm.
I suppose it all started to go a bit wrong when I had the problems with my Monday night jazz classes. I have always been fairly clear that learning more about music in some way, was an area I wanted to develop and jazz seemed like the ideal aspect of music for me to focus on. I like jazz and, whilst it is undoubtedly challenging, at least it does, to a degree, build on skills I already had, i.e. playing the guitar and piano. So far, so good but, with one thing and another, you’ll have to check out other blogs if you want to know more, the jazz didn’t work either in the form of a Monday night class or, even more self-esteem destroying, the summer school. So no jazz and a big gap in my learning goals.
Yes, I’ve tried other forms of learning. The easiest of which is probably reading books about areas that interest you – I’m reading one called Austerity Britain about the time, in this country, after the war, the era of my birth (I was born in 1948). Fascinating and not too demanding. Similarly, a book I bought in Scarborough on a recent trip about the development of the railways world-wide titled Blood, Iron and Gold. Again interesting, undemanding and a person learns stuff as you read along.
OK, but not quite OK enough, so I tried a couple of other learning strategies. First, and only little bit more difficult, or so I thought, having bought a bass guitar at an auction, I asked a friend who is in a band and plays bass guitar, to give me a couple of lessons. Turns out playing bass ‘’properly’ calls for more skill than I had thought. My friend, call him Dave, was, until recently, a teacher and boy can’t you tell? As he was teaching me, he kept repeating, look at me, Pete, no, look at me, as I was trying to work out where to put my fingers and didn’t want to bloody well look at him. But it was OK, whether there will be further lessons I don’t think either of us is sure. Watch this space.
The second learning strategy, and this is a much bigger step, was to sign up for a jazz improvisation course at Leeds College of Music. Yes, I know I’d given up the jazz but… You can tell it’s prestigious because it’s expensive – £150 for the two days. Prestigious also means demanding and of quite a high standard. Once again I found myself somewhat out of my depth but with none of the subtle self-esteem damagers of the Monday night classes. It’s true that I woke up Sunday morning and told Mrs Summerhouse that I wasn’t going back, it’s too hard and why should I make a fool of myself when I didn’t have to. It reminded me of the joke about the person saying to unidentified female (his mother?) – I don’t want to go to school, I hate school, the kids don’t like me, the teachers don’t like me, I’m not going. The female voice says, you have to go dear, you are the headmaster. Anyway, I went and, as Mrs SH had predicted (she has been horribly wrong in the past though), I was glad I went. I got through it and learned some more stuff. There’s even a recording out there somewhere of me performing in our ‘band’. I haven’t spoiled my illusions by looking at it yet (I have now, it’s OK but too large as a file – there are 3 of them – to attach to this blog, which is probably a good thing, one of our dogs ran out the room when I played it for Mrs SH).
Alongside the above I joined an on-line course from something called Coursera about the Theory of Music. This is a challenging course, witness the fact that I have failed every quiz that they put in at periodic intervals but still I am learning musical stuff and there’s nobody looking over your shoulder and sneering at my incompetence and, as I haven’t signed up for a certificate (or paid any money), you can completely do it at your own speed. I’m slow, picking this learning up every now and again and it’s on-going. So a bit painful but I have it down as a success in terms of my learning value.
Which brings me to the final part of this blog about learning in retirement and it is, as they say, a doosie, is that how you spell it? In the New Year I have signed up again for a 10 week, evening class, course at Leeds College of Music, yes, that’s right, 10 whole weeks and this time it’s about jazz piano. An instrument I’ve never played in public in a jazz context (I did play the keyboard for an hour or so on the weekend course) but at least I can read music as written for the piano, slowly, glacially slow, but I know the theory even though it’s fifty years since I learned it. I can hear you now saying, this boy is a fool, doesn’t he know when to call it quits? Or maybe you’re quietly thinking, boy, this boy is to be admired for his resilience in the face of the persistent message from the world out there, that he should call it quits. But then that’s retirement for you, well, my retirement at least, it has shoe-horned me into some very interesting (and challenging) situations. Go retired person, go.