Four LMS Adult Division musicians share their stories and explain why making music as an older adult is especially fulfilling.
Many of the enthusiastic students filling the classrooms and hallways of Kaufman Music Center's Lucy Moses School with music and song fit a slightly different profile than some might expect. Among the children heading to their lessons are many adult students, including retired New Yorkers who are returning to an old passion or learning to sing or play an instrument for the first time.
“It’s a growing trend,” explains LMS's Assistant Director and Adult DIvision Manager Alicia Andrews in a recent Washington Post article on the growing number of older adults picking up instruments. “In the last few years, more adults are really making music and arts a priority in their lives. ‘Bucket list’ is such a trendy term, but that’s what they say — ‘Playing an instrument has been on my bucket list.’ ”
“As an older woman, music is a raison d’etre. It is a reason to be. It gives you life, pleasure. Music is just so wonderful for the soul, for everything that ails you. I feel better when I sing.”
Joyce Carpati launched her career as an opera singer in the 1950s at age 17, when she was identified as an outstanding young talent by the revered New York Times critic Olin Downes, and was chosen to perform with the WOR Symphony Orchestra. She then went on to study and perform opera in Milan, Italy.
During the six decades since, she married and raised a son, worked as one of the first women in advertising at Cosmopolitan Magazine in the 1970s, lived in Rome and Paris, starred in many commercials, and was recently featured in Ari Seth Cohen’s documentary Advanced Style, which spotlights some exceptionally stylish seniors. Through it all, she has always continued to sing.
Now 84, Joyce first got to know Lucy Moses School when her two granddaughters studied at the school. She took a class in musical comedy, and soon began private voice lessons with Ingrid Zeldin. “I asked if there was a teacher here that I could really relate to because I was an older woman, and I wanted to find someone that I feel at home with and can talk to. Ingrid is superb. I started singing with her, and it’s been wonderful.” “Music is so important,” Joyce affirms. “It just gives me life.”
“Sight-Singing is more fun than a barrel of monkeys.”
Carl Pellman’s first singing role was “Buttercup” in a production of H.M.S. Pinafore at his summer camp at age nine. He loved to sing, but music took a back seat to academics in college and medical school, and then to the demands of his busy career as a urologist. Eventually, he joined the choir at his synagogue. When his cantor suggested he try out for the acclaimed Jewish choral group Zamir, Carl decided to get serious about his vocal skills. He headed to Lucy Moses School, where he has sampled a variety of vocal offerings and has grown as a singer. “At LMS you hear music on every floor. You hear people talking and singing, and everybody feels good. It’s a really friendly place and a pleasure to come.”
“Sight-Singing is more fun than a barrel of monkeys,” says Carl. “[The instructor] Liz Fleisher is an amazing woman! I started at the basic level and moved up. She adapts the class to the abilities of the people who sing with her.” Carl sang opera in LMS’s Aria da Capo class with instructor Chaim Freiberg, whom he credits with teaching him to get up on stage and sing his best, and auditioned for Nashir!, LMS’s vocal ensemble dedicated to Jewish choral music. “[Nashir! director] Ben Gruder brought a whole new world of music to me,” he says, including Jewish music in Yiddish as well as Hebrew. He’s helped me improve my tone, my voice, and my understanding of music, which helps me connect emotionally with the music and the text.” Some of Carl’s favorite pieces to sing include “Bei Mir Bist du Shane” and the Hebrew version of a work by the 16th century Italian composer Palestrina, sung for centuries in Latin, but premiered by Nashir! last June in Hebrew at Merkin Concert Hall. “It’s beautiful. Hopefully it will gain traction in the Jewish choral world,” he says. “It was very hard and we pulled it off. The sheer joy.” Now 83, Carl still supervises urology residents and physician assistants and recently received a teaching award.
“I enjoy singing so much. I think I’m doing better now than if I had started when I was younger.”
Juanita Webster enjoyed singing in church choirs as a child. Like many Lucy Moses School Adult Division musicians, she put music aside to focus on her career, and returned to it much later, after she retired. She has sung with the St. George’s Episcopal Church Choir for 12 years. A friend recommended Lucy Moses School’s Sight-Singing program more than 10 years ago, and the rest is history. “Once I started Sight-Singing, things became a lot easier,” says Juanita. Now, when she’s singing with her choir, “I’m able to hear the pitches. I’m able to look ahead and anticipate the notes and sing with the group. It’s wonderful, really.” The instructor, Liz Fleischer, makes it easy for students at different levels to learn how to use their voices, she says. “I’m learning so much. I think I’m doing better now than if I had started when I was younger.” Juanita loves singing pop songs as well as Mozart. A serious opera fan, she fondly recalls seeing legends like Leontyne Price and Birgit Nilsson in their prime.
The social aspect of singing is particularly beneficial for seniors, Juanita believes. “Coming out and meeting other people and working with them at this stage of your life is just so helpful. It’s wonderful to come out and sing.” LMS is a wonderful place, she says. “I enjoy seeing the youngsters. They’re having so much fun. There’s so much both youngsters and adults can partake of – singing, drama, instruments. It’s wonderful to be able to do that, to know that’s a possibility.”
“I love the creative, improvisational aspect of jazz. It certainly makes me feel good. I think the world stops when I play, which is a great meditative thing. It’s very addictive."
Most of Jay Zemann’s friends in high school and college were musicians, but it wasn’t until much later that he felt comfortable taking up an instrument himself. Inspired by a trumpet player friend and his love for jazz, he picked up the saxophone at age 40. “One night I said, why don’t I start doing this?” he remembers. A professional painter who creates murals and abstract gestural works, Jay made progress with the saxophone but was impatient to play jazz and felt he needed some help to take his playing to the next level. He first came to Lucy Moses School as a Dalcroze student. And then, one day in the elevator on the way up to Anne Farber’s class, he saw a flyer for LMS Jazz Program Director Roni Ben-Hur’s Improvisation class. This would be a stretch for him, he realized, since he could play tunes but didn’t yet have the basic musical foundations that he knew he needed to develop. “Going into Roni’s class was eye-opening and a little daunting,” he recalls. “But it was very supportive because everyone in the group was there for the same reason. They all wanted to learn, they all wanted to get better, and they all wanted to make the ensemble sound good. And Roni is an extraordinarily patient and encouraging teacher.” Now 59, Jay has recently taken up the flute as a second instrument.
Jay enjoys spending time with the members of his jazz ensemble outside of their weekly class. “We love it so much that we get together to practice on a regular basis,” he says. As a painter he spends a lot of time working alone and appreciates the social aspect of playing together with an ensemble. “It’s about how the trio sounds, how you play off each other, how somebody improvising raises your game,” he explains. “Most of my close friends now are people that I play music with.” Jay advises adult music learners to get a good teacher, play with musicians just a little bit better than you, and above all, be patient with yourself. “Music is like any language. You want to speak it right away, so you can often get ahead of yourself.” And always make it easy for yourself to practice, even if it’s just for 10 minutes a day.
Click here to browse classes for adults at Kaufman Music Center's Lucy Moses School.