LIFE-LONG LEARNING

It’s a well known fact that learning an instrument has a myriad of benefits.

Rocket Norton wasn’t exactly living a lie.

He was living the dream.

A dream based on a youthful fib.

Go back a few decades. Some musicians were putting a band together. Every band needs a drummer but they didn’t have one. Rocket had musical experience … of a sort: he played the accordion.  

When the question came up, he answered right away.

“Can I play the drums?”

“Absolutely!”

Photo by Michael Desjardins. From Gramhir by Retrorockimages

Now, he wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with the drums. Following the appearance of The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show, Rocket had thrown over the accordion for a drum kit, happily banging away by himself in the basement of his parent’s home. That, it would turn out, was enough to get by. Thus launched Rocket’s life-long career as a celebrated professional – albeit untrained – drummer. 

They call this moxy.

Rocket has moxy aplenty.

Moxy delivered Rocket the life of a rock star, touring across North American and playing packed arenas. He was the drummer for a batch of Canadian bands, the most famous of which was the Juno award-winning band, Prism. Good call, that, ditching the accordion.

Photo by David Martin from Unsplash

Rocket’s drum training had been simple. He’d come home from school, put a record on the hi-fi, and do his best to play along. He’s the first to admit that he had no technical training; that he was figuring it out as he went along. His technique was simple: “I played from my gut.” Rocket maintains that drumming is, at its core, instinctual. The mechanics of it can be taught, but the artistry is innate. You can fake out the mechanics but you can’t fake out the passion. Rocket had buckets of passion; he wished had more scholarship.

Rocket maintains that drumming is, at its core, instinctual.

So Rocket went back to the beginning. He wanted to learn how to play the drums from scratch. Rocket explains it this way: “I’d built this whole house with no real foundation. It was time to fix that.”

“I’d built this whole house with no real foundation. It was time to fix that.”

He signed up for classes at Rufus Drums. Countless people have learned how to play at Rufus Guitar and Drums but you don’t expect to see a celebrated veteran of the Canadian music industry lining up for classes. The first year was spent re-learning stick control rudiments, not even touching a drum. He’s kept it up. Once a week, Rocket sits down in a soundproof studio alongside his instructor, Tristan, who puts him through his paces. He goes home with homework.  

Has it made a difference?

It’s made a huge difference, according to Rocket.

“Now I can do the stuff that I could only imagine before.” 

It’s a well known fact that learning an instrument has a myriad of benefits. There’s considerable science showing that playing the drums improves the functionality of the brain. Mood is improved as scientists say that alpha waves get a boost when you’re making music.  It doesn’t matter what instrument you pick up – guitar, flute, xylophone – the act of making music improves us. Given the acknowledged virtues, you’d think that medicine cabinets would be stuffed with sheet music and not prescription bottles but music instruction is, wrongly,  considered the domain of youth. 

It doesn’t matter what instrument you pick up – guitar, flute, xylophone – the act of making music improves us.

In recent years, I’ve become fascinated by the mathematics of drumming, trying to match on my steering wheel the complex patterns in a pop song. The nice thing about the drums in particular, is that, unlike the violin, it’s an instrument that meets you halfway. I took an introductory class at Rufus Drums and discovered that I wasn’t half bad. Not half good, mind you, but I could pound out a satisfying beat that resembled music. I plan on signing up for more classes. I liked everything about it: the way it marshals all your limbs, challenges dexterity, sharpens your focus.  Another plus? You get to hit things really hard. You gotta love that!

Ever wanted to learn how to play the guitar? Maybe the drums have always fascinated you?

Procrastinate no more!

If you’ve always wanted to learn to play, here’s your start!

I picked up the sticks myself and, I have to say, I loved it!  Unlike, say … the violin, right off the bat, you can produce a satisfying result. The guitar, however, has a more difficult learning curve. Still, every journey starts with a single step. Begin!

Register for The Plain Jane newsletter to win one of several introductory music lessons from Rufus Guitar and Drums!

Check out what Rufus is up to on their YouTube channel.

Be sure to add us to your address book. After you sign up you will be sent more details on how to opt-in to this draw!

The contest is open to BC residents and closes on Friday, October 15th at 11:59pm PT. Winners will be selected using a random name generator. Winners will be notified by The Bookless Club.

This week’s question for readers:

ARE YOU A LIFE-LONG LEARNER? WHAT HAVE YOU TAKEN UP NOW THAT YOU’RE ALL ‘GROWN UP’? WHAT DO YOU REGRET NOT HAVING STAYED WITH?


Responses to last week’s question:

WHAT SATISFIED YOUR CHILDHOOD SWEET TOOTH?

As a pragmatic young lad, I reasoned that Jaw Breakers were the best bang for the buck (or under a nickel back then).  The delectable, slow dissolve was a superb respite for my insatiable sugar cravings but not so great for my parents devoid of a family dental plan. Nevertheless, my first kiss, on the rooftop parkade of the local Dominion grocery store, with a girl who smelled of Cinnamon Hearts, emphatically supplanted Jaw Breakers from the top of my candy favourites list.

Gary

What wonderful childhood memories you’ve brought back! Yes, I remember the gold rush gum, the horrible soap gum and so many others! What I liked were the strawberry marshmallows that, unfortunately, just don’t have the same taste or texture as they used to. Little spearmint jelly candies in the shape of mint leaves were good and a friend and I used to enjoy the various (glass) bottles of crush pop for a 25 cents, which would sometimes be accompanied by a long red twizzler licorice that had both ends bit off and used as a straw.

John Stenning

How about the politically incorrect candy from the 1960’s?  The candy cigarettes that made you feel so cool and grown up?  There was another candy introduced in 1968 called Albert’s Hippy Sippy.  It was a plastic toy syringe filled with multi coloured pellets in it.  A button was attached to the tip with sayings such as “I’ll try anything” and “we sell happiness”. Needless to say they were banned by 1969.

Diane Johnson

One of my favourite candies when I was young was blackballs. As the name suggests, they were round black balls, maybe a little over a centimetre in diameter. Layers of different colours were revealed as you sucked on them. Sometimes they ended in a tiny bit of liquorice seed in the middle. When they for some reason went from 2 for a penny to 3 for a penny, we neighbourhood kids sat on the curb excitedly calculating how many we’d now be able to get for various coins – for a nickel, 15! for a dime, 30! Oh happy day! I haven’t been able to find blackballs for many years – and don’t know if I’d still like them if I did – but they’re a fond memory. 

Eileen Minogue

I was always enchanted by the candy store, so many choices but Jelly Tots were, and still are, my favourite. My youngest son follows this passion, and in his early twenties still knows the cost of each treat and is appalled when corner stores overcharge: “Mom they are charging DOUBLE for bananas…”. One day (fairly recently) after he helped me with some household chores,  I handed him a $5 bill to run down to the candy store (Candy in the Cove is a Bowen Island marvel). His eyes lit up as he ran out the door, to return with his paper bag of treasures. He even shared some with me!

Jeanette Langmann

Among my favorite candy was Mojos. They came in different flavors; I liked the white-wrappered spearmint best. They cost me only a penny for three but cost my mom much more when one pulled the filling out of my tooth!

Don Kowalchuk

Maybe I’m just a little too old to remember all the packaged candy; perhaps that came later. I vividly  remember going to the candy counter  at the local store and surveying the 8 ft glass display case of “penny candy”.  Oh, the riches! In those days (I was eight then) we didn’t get an allowance as such but would sometimes be gifted with a dime or quarter. With even just a dime you could get a small brown paper bag with three lemon sours, three licorice strings, three cherry drops and, the best of all, three jawbreakers! Imagine what you could get for .25 cents! Just remember to save .10 cents for the latest comic book! Ah, life was good!

Elaine Anderson

14 thoughts on “LIFE-LONG LEARNING”

  1. At the age of 62, I resurrected my cello and signed up for lessons after a 17-year hiatus. That was in 2015. And here I am 7 years later still playing cello and loving it. My teacher and I have worked through the likes of Breval and Bach as well as cataract surgery, ptosis surgery and the on-going effects of osteoarthritis in my fingers. Ah, the joys of being a (very) mature student! Recently, I joined a string ensemble and hope to resume playing in a community chamber orchestra once our PHO says it’s safe to do so. Lifelong learning? You bet!

    Joy Barry

  2. In my view (and for many in the field of adult education) all adults are lifelong learners, although often not recognized as such. At the very least, virtually every adult life transition requires some level of learning. Lifelong learning ought not to be confused with the more limited subset called lifelong education.

  3. Hello Jane,
    As a mechanical engineer, I’m learning new things constantly, whether it’s CAD (computer aided design) systems, manufacturing technologies to build the things I design, or aspects of machine design that weren’t covered in school.

    But now that I’ve “grown up”, I’ll list two areas that I’ve been learning that I count as lifelong learning.

    Guitar. When I was a kid, I bought an acoustic archtop 6 string from the Sears catalog and tried to teach myself how to play. In high school in the 1960s, you could take a music course (which meant band, my sister played trumpet) but nothing with the music we listened to on the radio. I traded the archtop for an electric guitar (surf music, Duane Eddy, Ventures) and then for a 12 string acoustic (folk music). In retrospect, the 12 string was a good choice for folk music, but a poor choice for learning the guitar. I pretty much stopped playing it. Thirty years later, after the mortgage was paid off, I treated myself to a Fender Stratocaster, one of the most iconic rock guitars, and a small amplifier. I started re-learning many of the songs and instrumentals I tried to play as a kid. A few years after that, after the death of parents, a separation and buying a new house, I signed up for guitar lessons. I continued this for seven years. At lesson one, the instructor placed a sheet of music on the music stand…Oh oh, I’m in trouble now. I’d never taken band, and never learned how to read sheet music. So we painfully went through it note by note. After a few years of this, I suddenly found my fingers playing the notes on the sheet without conscious thought. I was starting to be able to play music from the sheet. I likened this to learning how to read the alphabet and words as a child, although adult learning is a different process than learning as a child. Some years later, I fell in love with a Gibson Les Paul electric guitar, so now I have one of each of the most iconic rock guitars. In the latter stages of the pandemic, I’ve noticed that I haven’t been playing either of my guitars. Your column was a reminder that I need to get back to playing.

    Airplanes. In my first email to you I mentioned that I’ve been building a homebuild kit airplane, pictures attached. When I was in high school, one of my career objectives was “aeronautical engineer”. It sounded cool, but I wasn’t sure what it really involved. After a less successful university career, I eventually got a diploma from BCIT in Mechanical Design. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t become an aeronautical engineer, I’m sure I would have had to move constantly, work for too many different companies, and endure the boom/bust cycle in that industry. When I was at the point of being downsized in the early 2000s, I decided I wanted to try building an airplane. I wanted to learn the craft (how to build) and the technology (the components, engine, airframe, electronics) of airplanes. The homebuilt, and later kit built, airplane has been a possibility since the 1950s as a result of the Experimental Aircraft Association (actually, the Wright brothers in 1903 were the first homebuilders), and comprehensive kits have been available since the 1990s. In fact, the number of kitbuilt registrations of light aircraft far surpasses the number of factory built registrations and has for years. So the very first decision on the very first part of my project was do I prime paint the interior or not. It turns out that this subject is debated in the “primer wars”, an ongoing discussion of opinions for and against. So, in typical engineer fashion, I did my research and made the decision, in this case to primer the interior. Each step in the process of building has been like this and has turned out to be a “mini project” of its own. So did I learn? Oh yes! Far more and in greater detail than I had even imagined. In fact, I think I could call myself an aeronautical engineer now, although I don’t have a piece of paper that says so. It’s been the longest and most expensive project of my life, and still have a few more years to go before its finished. When asked, I reply it will be finished on Tuesday (without specifying which one).

  4. As always – I was looking forward to seeing what Jane was going to write about this week. Loved the story about Rocket, and the fact you are learning the drums!

    I am definitely a life-long learner. And while I have played some kind of instrument most of my life, it is learning to make videos that was my big learning experience at the age of 70.

    Friends who run the local television station gave me the opportunity to do a year long series on ordinary folks going through the pandemic when I mentioned they should be covering it back when it was first declared in 2020. They gave me equipment, editing software and as much help as I wanted. I did a series called Zooming the Pandemic. Won’t win any awards but I learned so much. Learning is part of life – and I think it keeps us all involved in the world.

  5. I did my undergrad, mostly through night classes or corresponce, from Univ. of Victoria, Vancouver Community College, Simon Fraser Univ., Fraser Valley College and Okanagan College, as well as the BC Real Estate licensing course (UBC).

    At age 35, I quit my 15 year banking career, and went to law school. I passed the Bar Admission exams in BC in 1988 and Alberta in 1999 (at age 50).

    Put simply, I’ve been a “logger, lender, lawyer and leader, laterally in Lumby, Langley, law school and lawyers Lawson Lundell” (that’s 17 L’s!). I am a “poster boy” for life-long learning.

  6. I have spent the last 45 years trying to come to grips with Bach. I was lucky enough to have a neighbour teach me piano as a teen,and took it up again as the kids grew up.I fell into the interest in early music,and acquired a secondhand harpsichord,followed by a kit for a better one we built ourselves. After many years of summer workshops and attending local concerts,and other composers,I always return to Bach- for me the greatest of all,full of complexity ,harmonies least expected,never easy,never boring. Even as arthritis narrows my reach and hurts more,I will persevere

  7. I enjoyed your article about candy – it brought back a lot of memories. Regarding being a life-long learner:

    I had always wanted to play the alto sax but never got around to it. When I was 56, I had the opportunity to join an adult concert band called Brass, Wind and Wire. It’s a weekly evening band class created for adults who had never played an instrument or hadn’t played in a long time. I joined as a beginner, on a borrowed sax. A year later after graduating into the intermediate class, I bought my own instrument. After nine years, band class is still a learning experience as well as a social event and I even enjoy performing at concerts. I have to thank the band’s conductor, Brenda Khoo, for creating this wonderful experience.

  8. This week’s column made me smile. In my mid-fifties I met a woman in Edmontonwho taught drums. She had played with some well and lesser known bands in Canada and United States in her youth – in the 60s. I immediately signed myself up for lessons and every Wednesday after work I went to her home for my weekly lesson. It didn’t take long to realize how uncoordinated I am, as well as quickly developing shin splints and carpal tunnel syndrome. Definitely not a old girl’s game! I continued going to my lessons and paid my teacher not only for the lessons, but also for an hour where we often times dissolved into hysterics at my feeble attempts. So well worth it. It is almost two decades later and we remain best of friends, even after I have relocated to Vancouver.
    Keep at it, and rock on!

  9. During my youth, I had aspirations of a university degree and becoming a writer. Life happens and finally, at the age of 44, I completed a degree from SFU. However, taking the sciences stomped the creativity out of me! After retiring from a fulfilling career, and pondering the future, the pandemic took over the world. I returned to SFU and am completing my 4th Creative Writing course. Through that, eight motivated students, like myself, have formed a Zoom writing group. We meet monthly, share and critique our writing and have set a goal of “draft memoirs” by September 2022. Life-long learning and new friendships are a win-win for this grateful senior during the time of Covid-19.

  10. For many years I have been a voracious reader, and have collected bits and pieces of prose, quotes and stories I love. In early retirement I started writing for myself, not really knowing why. Now most of my time is spent writing. I am a board member and participant of a third age learning centre where I live. Our mandate is lifelong learning. Through the centre I belong to Wednesday Writers, a group that meets every week. Writing is my later life passion.

  11. I think of myself as a lifelong learner. Since the age of eight, I’ve wanted to learn to play the piano. When I retired at 67, I received a couple of gift cards as a gift and used that to buy a small keyboard, headphones, stool and some books, leaving enough for some lessons. Then Covid hit and in the spring of 2020, I took a free online music theory course from our local library. That course was very helpful and I still have money set aside for an instructor once I feel comfortable about actually being close to strangers again.

  12. Two of my passions are duplicate bridge and line dancing. Both are enjoyable, can be started at any age, encourage new and lasting friendships and require lifelong learning. Both are enjoyed internationally and offer local or travel opportunities for parties, conventions and retreats. To learn or join in, check out your local community centre activities online.

  13. Dear Jane,

    I’ve written recently to say how much I look forward to your weekly columns, but your tale last Saturday of a first drum lesson after thinking about it for a lifetime stirred a memory of a similar notion I’d also harboured for decades, and it compels me to tell the story, obviously not for publication because it’s too lengthy. Last year at the age of 86 I had my first adult piano lesson. I hope you’ll indulge me.

    Growing up I took Royal Conservatory classical lessons. At a summer camp at the age of 14 I played a Chopin Nocturne on a piano in an old barn. Nobody paid any attention. The next day I watched as an older fellow sat at the piano playing popular songs. Five pretty girls stood around the piano oozing delight. I thought to heck with classical music, and as soon as I could went to a music store and bought sheet music for a number of popular songs, and developed my own arrangements. I’d go to hear the piano player in the favorite small town band to imitate him. The band was called the Joe Debuc orchestra. We kids used to say, “Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye, spit and puke with Joe Debuc.”

    Popular songs of the 1940s became the jazz classics of today, and over the years I privately relished my unsophisticated arrangements of about 40 of them. However, I never did get to play with pretty girls standing around the piano. Yet, my cousin still knows the fellow who I described was playing at that camp. He is now over 90 years old, living in Victoria. She was able to obtain his email address so I recently wrote to tell him how much he changed my life. Surprised, he graciously replied.

    Meanwhile, I used to tell people that if I ever retired I might take lessons with the hope I’d learn some of those luscious sounds of the professional jazz pianists, never really believing I’d do that. Well, weeks after I closed my office I actually did take that step. I registered at the VSO music school, asked for and was assigned my favorite jazz pianist who was on the faculty, and started lessons, first in the school and then for most of last year on Zoom after Covid intervened. He was a wonderful teacher. I don’t have talent to do it well, but very often spend a couple of enjoyable hours a day at the piano.

    Fortunately, other hobbies I hoped for also materialized so I’ve been able to fill my time at home during the pandemic. One I never anticipated was keeping in touch with friends and cousins by writing musings and recollections, vaguely similar to the stories you tell, but not with those precious witty gems every other sentence.

  14. I am a Sagittarius – famous for its wander-lust. Since coming to Canada from Belgium, now in the EU, I tried to know as much as possible about my new country; learning English to start with, residing and working in different cities and provinces, learning on the go; ending up in Surrey, BC. As an octogenarian, looking back, early in my retirement in London, Ont., I was a member of “Society for Learning in Retirement” or SLR. A small yearly membership was paid. A variety of subjects – history, medicine, geography, literature, music, etc. was to be chosen and prepared for presentation to members of the group (about 10 participants). After the presentation a question period completed the instruction. A fee was due for each presentation , (about $10). Copy of any presentation-papers available free. If a computer was used to illustrate the presentation, we had to use “Power-Point” on a memory-stick. A screen was available. Computer-skills were taught by University of London, Ont. students, acting as volunteers. Also, as SLR- members we had access to the University Library. Unique in Ontario, and a similar group somewhere in BC., it serves as an aid to keep the brain healthy. Because the mix of members (from farmers to doctors engineers, lawyers…) Many things I learned. May this shed some light on the learning portfolio. Pity, I could not find something similar in Metro-Vancouver

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