Seniors Learning to 'Mind the Music' with HCAC

Jan 11, 2017
Photo by: Donated photo

If you’ve ever wanted to make the sounds of music, now is the time. The Haywood County Arts Council is offering everyone aged 55 or older a unique learning opportunity. Mind the Music is a course of basic piano lessons specially created for seniors by Susan Huckaby, who teaches it.

Mind the Music enables students to play complete songs quickly. “Our students go from zero to “Amazing Grace” in a matter of weeks,” says Huckaby. “It’s wonderful to see people discovering an entirely new perspective on who they are and what they can do. And they’re having fun every step of the way.”

Huckaby, who holds advanced degrees in music, has taught piano for 35 years. The concept for Mind the Music came to her when visiting her parents in skilled nursing facilities. Their love of music never faded. The joy it gave them and other residents was inspiring. Huckaby soon found herself thinking of ways to extend that joy to people in the wider community.

Approaching the Haywood County Arts Council, Huckaby found an enthusiastic partner.

Lindsey Solomon, HCAC’s Executive Director, said, “Susan’s program is unlike any other. Small classes, lots of personal attention, and a no-stress environment. It’s a perfect fit with the Arts Council’s core mission of engaging as many people as possible in the practice and enjoyment of the arts.”

As the elements of the program came together, First United Methodist Church stepped up to provide a space. And, in autumn 2016, 18 people sat down to play the first notes of what could become a lifetime of music.

The program’s name, Mind the Music, is taken from a line in the old Revolution-era song, “Yankee Doodle.” The name also refers to the interaction between music and mind, and to the significant mental and physical benefits of playing a musical instrument.

Huckaby cites a recent scholarly article that describes research showing that playing a musical instrument “is a rich and complex experience that involves integrating information from the senses of vision, hearing and touch, as well as fine movements, and learning to do so can induce long-lasting changes to the brain.”

Another source, associated with UCLA, notes that “research suggests that playing an instrument is associated with a lower risk of dementia and cognitive impairment . . . It’s not so much about how well you play or what you play. It’s that you play.”

Clearly, Mind the Music addresses issues that older people relate to readily. The mental and physical benefits of learning to play piano are enhanced and enriched by the sheer pleasure of the experience. Because of the way the course is structured, even people who have unpleasant memories of stiffly formal childhood piano lessons find themselves embracing something new end rewarding in their lives.

Waynesville resident Marty Prevost, one of Huckaby’s first group of Mind the Music students, expresses the enthusiasm shared by others: “I’m just loving this. I’m close to retiring and want to play for fun. And now I’m learning in a whole new way.”

Mind the Music offers seniors a fresh sense of possibility along with important physical and mental advantages. The course is both stimulating and approachable. It’s a great way of spending time with others who share a deeply rewarding goal: making the most of what life can be. And it’s fun. All of which are good reasons why Mind the Music deserves high praise, perhaps even a rousing chorus of “Yankee Doodle.”

The Haywood County Arts Council and Susan Huckaby will offer a Winter Session of Mind the Music, beginning in late January. Anyone interested in participating should register by Friday, Jan. 13. Register at the Haywood County Arts Council, 86 N. Main St., Waynesville. For more information, call the Arts Council at 828-452-0593 or visit www.haywoodarts.org/senior-piano-lessons.