FOR some members of the Cork Light Orchestra, blowing the dust off their musical instruments was an essential part of avoiding the retirement blues.
The group, established almost two years ago, is made up of people of all ages, but a large proportion are older people who use their love of music to keep active and exercise their brains in their retirement.
Among them is Joe Dunne, aged 69, is a seasoned flautist who is determined to keep body and mind active and healthy, by refusing to give up his old trade.
“I play the flute, and I dabbled with it playing traditional Irish music for over the years,” he says.
“As I was coming toward the retirement age, I said maybe I should have it as a retirement project.”
To further boost his mental fitness, Joe enrolled in a music therapy course in UCC.
“That was four years full-time as a mature student, and that was excellent,” he recalls.
Retirement and the abundance of free time that it can often afford allowed Joe to excel at college, and he found the educational ambitions of old age agreeable to the lifestyle of retirement.
“I didn’t have the pressures that students had, which would have been having to work to earn money, so I had the luxury of going home to study,” he says.
After graduation, Joe played with a Cobh band and the Butter Exchange Band, but finally settled for the Cork Light Orchestra.
Joe thinks that a musically-activated brain can make you immune to the ailments of the mind — that art works in mysterious ways.
“Playing in an orchestra, you’re using your brain in 10 different ways at one time. There’s a huge amount going on.”
The approach is in line with the concept of Flow, pioneered by Hungarian-American psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. The therapist believed that when in a state of flow, a safe area between boredom and anxiety, humans feel mentally at ease and more focused.
“A person in flow is mentally involved in the challenge and intrinsic pleasure of the activity (and hence is not bored), yet lacks self-consciousness and apprehension about performance (the hallmarks of anxiety),” he wrote.
He concluded that keeping active by finding an “ambition” or “ a temporary goal” meant remaining in the flow.
As part of an unorthodox approach to treating dementia, doctors in the Netherlands have successfully used the relaxing power of soothing music to improve the life quality of their patients.
A growing body of research has also found that working longer has a significantly potent impact on keeping fit and healthy.
According to researchers at Harvard Medical School, most people benefit from working until later in life as keeping the brain active is key to fighting dementia and other mental ailments.
A European survey of health, ageing and retirement, also found that the short-term impact of retirement on people ranged from clinical depression to loss of appetite and fatigue.
Joe says Ireland needs to take better care of her aging, “competent” older musicians by facilitating their return to the country’s vibrant music scene.
“A lot of people were playing in Ireland in showbands back in the 1960s, but their trumpets went up in the attic — and gathered a lot of dust,” says Kevin Dwyer, 74, with a smile. The trumpeter of the orchestra, he has been quite recently reunited with his “bashed up” instrument, after almost 50 years.
“I sent it to the UK, and they charged me £800 to rebuild it, but it came back, and it’s absolutely beautiful,” he says.
Ilse de Ziah, an award-winning, Cork-based cellist, is the founder and conductor of Cork’s Light orchestra. She says that, coming from a family of musicians, she grasps the devastating impact of saying goodbye to a musical instrument.
“My grandfather was an amateur cellist, and played in an orchestra all the time, and my grandmother was always in a choir, and my father was playing organ in churches,” she says.
Married to renowned Australian acoustic and electric guitar player Ian Date, Ilse can’t get enough of the wonders of music, particularly when it involves prescribing it as a potent anti-depressant to the elderly.
She says her group is committed to making their music accessible to Cork people, hence organising various outdoor gigs.
As one audience member said “the orchestra plays music we all know and love but do not hear often enough”.
Pieces specially arranged for the orchestra by Musical Director Ilse include Mad About The Boy, Downtown, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Hit The Road Jack and the Banks of My Own Lovely Lee.
Cork Light Orchestra, often soothingly intensifies the emotionally authentic moments of reunion, by playing at the airport.
“When people are coming home for Christmas we play on for an hour and a half, and all these people burst into tears because they haven’t seen each other in a long time,” Kevin explains.
Ilse adds that charity gigs for patients of Marymount Hospice and St Luke’s nursing home are also an important part of their musical excursions.
The orchestra also welcomes younger members. Katherine Thackeray, a UCC employee in her late forties who plays the violin for the group, says she has extended her social circle since joining the orchestra.
“It’s a lovely thing, we rehearse every Monday, I mean we rehearse seriously, but it’s the social aspect of it as well,” she says.
“We do actually work together as a group. It’s really a good discipline. It’s nice to have something different to do.”
Cork Light orchestra, which plays the salon, jazz and other schools of light 1920s music, will lend its tunes to Middleton Arts festival in mid-May.
For more information see https://www.facebook.com/Corklightorchestra/.