Today was workshop day at the Region IX Convention of the American Guild of Organists in Bakersfield. One of the workshops I was most anxious to hear was one titled “Performing in the Golden Years: Just Survive or Really Thrive?” It was given by Dorothy Young Riess, who is now in her 82nd year on the planet, although you’d never know it. Dorothy spent the first third of her life in music, the second third of her life in medicine (She was an internist) and the next third of her life she is back to music.
Her talk was peppered with humor: Age doesn’t matter unless you’re cheese. Age is just a number, and mine is unlisted! Her role model is the great Catharine Crozier, who played memorized organ recitals at age 75, 80 and 85. She had some excellent advice for all of us organists who are aging and have to deal with gravity pulling us down, ultra-violet radiation, free radicals (what we eat); daily wear and tear on the body and our inability to regenerate cells after a certain age.
She cited some amazing statistics: musicians live longer by 12 years than ordinary people; organists live longer than orchestral conductors; and sopranos live longer than altos!
Dorothy had some excellent advice: Make yourself learn something new everyday — but only play the music that speaks to you and that you want to play! Life is too short to become well-rounded! Careful, slow practice is the only way to a good performance. Repetitions increase neurons. Put practicing on your schedule, just like a doctor’s appointment. Practice smarter, not harder: create a practice schedule and set goals for each session. Record each practice session, then play it back to evaluate it.
Talk about organists who have longevity: two years ago a woman won a free registration to this convention and she was presented to the assembly last night. It was also announced that she was 92 years old and continues to play at her church job of 52 years!