Not for the faint of heart...this growing older business!

(Ramblings from one of the older ones in this business)

by Howard Meharg, Web-Editor, NW ACDA

I quickly gave up on crediting the individual for the phrase “growing old is not for the faint of heart!” Too many have said it… or something akin to it, so I’m claiming the phrase as my own! (As if…)

What got me started on this was the notion I’d write a short article for NW ACDA’s “Northwest Notes” about aging. Some of us who began our work as choral directors at or around the time the American Choral Directors Association got started are well into the “aging” category. My original attempt was to write a humorous article. As funny as the jokes were back in the days when we turned 40 and got all those “over the hill” birthday cards, I got a couple of paragraphs into my article and decided that, at age 80, “there’s nothing funny about this!”

But, on the other hand, if you can’t laugh at yourself you probably have some serious problems not addressable in this space.

The aches and pains (to me, anyway) seem to be inevitable. This morning a new one. My right knee hurt with every step for the first half-mile as I took the dog for her usual two-mile walk. That went away. The aches in the hips and lower back continue and seem to be a constant. Am I boring you, yet? That’s OK. I don’t even want to hear me!

At my age…
What a wonderful three words to use as an excuse for jumping around from one subject to another!

OK, about hearing…
I’ve already written about the issue of loss of hearing acuity. Now, that’s a serious issue for one who works in music. Well, unless your name is Beethoven. The first signs of it started fifteen years ago. Read about it HERE. I must admit. My hearing has not gotten better. (Another funny thing about aging, gravity applies to so many things and so “downhill” seems to be the main direction!)

My recommendation to you as you chat with those who admit to some hearing impairment is that you do two things; first, don’t assume we’re senile if we nod or respond with an inappropriate answer. We’re hard-of-hearing, not stupid (in most cases)! And second, speak up just a bit, especially in a noisy room. Hearing aids tend to pick up all sounds and isolating your voice might be a bit more difficult. OK, and another. Don’t yell at us. It makes us think you’re angry!

On a related subject…
I do find a certain “salvation” in listening to music through really good headsets. Quite honestly, I’m a critic of anyone who thinks he or she can listen critically to any music, especially fine choral music, using a phone or iPad speakers. Earbuds are suspect. At one time (speaking of years past) we spent lots of money on “high-fidelity” speakers, tape decks, turntables, and amplifiers to enable high quality listening. It’s sacrilegious to destroy great choral music by listening to it on a one-inch speaker!

If you’re like me, you may have sold all your old “hi-fi” stuff a long time ago, including your sub-woofer and your column speakers. I tried hanging on to them and using them. For some reason others in my house seemed to think they were turned up too loud when they were simply at the point where I thought that crescendo was thrilling. Never mind that the neighbors were thinking about calling the cops.

Sorta related, too…
OK, maybe it goes with the territory, but here’s another gripe. Why do you allow the posting of YouTube videos of your choir’s excellent performance that are taken with a handheld iPhone, shaky, and with horrible sound quality? Whatever your reason, it can’t be to impress folks with your choral artistry!


A stretch, but also related…
Many new publications are available by publishers that provide some nice choirs in performance of the piece.  I have to ask, “how do you really judge the quality of a piece of music without a quality headset or speakers with a full frequency range?”


Enough about the ears…how about the eyes?
Mostly it’s just keeping track of the right glasses for the need of the moment. One can never have too many “readers” of the proper magnification around the house! Cataracts? Fixable, but the surgery is expensive even with health insurance. I was so happy with the results of my cataract removal, I asked permission to hug my ophthalmologist after my cataract fix. I now saw one signal light rather than six at the intersections. Wow! It was nice to see things clearly! Still need the readers, though, for the close-up work.


Here’s something to think about, seriously…sobering but important!
Yes, I’m aware that some folks can sink into issues with dementia as we get older. I’m not at all prepared to speak with authority on this subject. (I expect that there are those who say l I should be an experienced authority.) But being unprepared has never stopped me before. I will say this. Treat those with such signs with the same respect you would have if they were still “normal.”


Here’s a thought for ya…
When I was maybe ten years old and maybe ‘til the past few years, I would look back to the time before 1938 (the year I was born) as ancient history. Some of you may very well look at the era before 1990 (after all, you’re 29 years old) as an unrelatable time with no computers, cell phones, electric cars…ancient history.


It’s almost as if people who lived before our own time were different. They were not!

Take it as far back as you wish. The well-known figures found in our history books, the composers, performers, poets, religious persons, politicians, “founding fathers,” and all the rest…no matter how many years ago they lived, were simply people. They had the same needs, the same aches and pains, the same hopes for love and beauty, the same fears.

And that’s true for all the unknown folks like most of us who were never mentioned in a history book, too. It doesn’t matter about their mode of travel, their wearing apparel, their communication system, their status as to wealth or poverty or anything else you can name. Let’s not look to the past as some mystical or magical age when all was well. It wasn’t. Never. And despite the incredible evil of such things as the Inquisition, the Holocaust, genocide, slavery, and wars, humans then and now can rise to huge heights of compassion, caring and love.


At one point I was fond of the saying, “we’re all in the same boat.” That may or may not be exactly true. As our friend, Neal Lieurance faced the certainty of his death, suffering from pancreatic cancer a few years ago, I wrote to him to say, “I’m not sure whether we’re all in the same boat, but rather all in our own little boats sailing around doing our very best, but all eventually headed to the same shore.” Knowing that, maybe it helps us keep things in better perspective.

Do not forget that through every age…yes, even before 1938…beautiful music existed and exists. You have the privilege of a role in making it happen. What a privilege!

You thought I was through, but no…
I was about to wrap this up when I saw a posting on Facebook by my friend Ben Keller, who is rapidly catching up with me in terms of age. Exactly where Ben got these pieces of wisdom called “Perks of reaching 60 or being over 70 and heading towards 80!,” I don’t know, but I’ll share ‘em anyway:

  1. Kidnappers are not very interested in you.

  2. In a hostage situation you are likely to be released first.

  3. No one expects you to run---anywhere.

  4. People call at 8 PM and ask: “Did I wake you?”

  5. People no longer view you as a hypochondriac.

  6. There is nothing left to learn the hard way.

  7. Things you buy now are unlikely to wear out.

  8. You can eat supper at 5 PM. (Or any time you feel like it!)

  9. You can live without sex but not your glasses.

  10. Your supply of brain cells is finally down to manageable size.


I’m going to end this article by plagiarizing myself quoting Robert Bly.
Bly wrote:


If a young boy leaps over seven hurdles in a row,
And an instant later is an old man reaching for his cane,
To the swiftness of it all we have to say "Amen."


So, again I say, relax...say “Amen.” Some things must be accepted with “so be it,” albeit, in my case, with considerable grumping around about getting used to it.

You may contact Howard Meharg at

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