Learning the Guitar at 87
“Did you know that Katie is learning to play the guitar?”, the programs manager at Tapestry at Wesbrook Village mentioned casually a few months ago.
Hasn’t everyone at some point wished they could play the guitar? Be a rock star? Even for a brief moment. Music is special. Making music is even more special.
Katie Drysdale is a friendly and familiar face around Tapestry at Wesbrook Village in Vancouver. And she’s always impeccably dressed. She has lived at Tapestry situated on the UBC campus for over four years. Katie organized and played for a number of music events including Christmas performances and a guest performance from her former voice student, Fraser Walters of The Tenors. She has also played for many musical theater productions.
Over the next few weeks, we noticed Katie in the elevator with a guitar in case heading out. Wesbrook Village recently opened up the new community centre just two short blocks from Tapestry and that’s where Katie heads for her weekly guitar lesson.
“I think my first instructor was confused the first time I went for a lesson. He called my name and I responded. Maybe he thought the name ‘Katie’ was a young person name! Mind you, he looked about 12 years old…” Katie, 87 years, laughs.
Last Christmas when Katie was visiting family in California, her granddaughter, who was learning Flamenco guitar, gave her a quick lesson. She decided then that she would take lessons upon her return to Vancouver.
Katie started her musical career at a very young age as a singer. Between the ages of 7 and 9, she learned to play the violin then the piano. She took up the organ at 37. But singing was always what Katie was most passionate about. In fact, it is what brought her to Vancouver from Victoria when she was 20 years old to pursue her singing career.
Katie sang regularly on CBC radio for many years with recitals in between and all the while working 9 to 5. She sang in the group with other singers for the opening of Queen Elizabeth Theater with the Queen and Prince Philip in attendance. While performing professionally in Vancouver, Katie had to retire from vocal performance due to voice injury. She would continue to provide lessons in both vocals and piano for many years; with still a couple of students on her schedule now.
“Music is my life”, Katie explains.
Throughout her life, Katie has been involved in music. She sang with the Vancouver International Festival and with the Vancouver Opera Association. Besides teaching, she has been regularly soloist in churches including First Baptist Church and St. Andrew’s Wesley, First United Church in downtown Vancouver and was organist at Christian Science for many years. Katie also worked at UBC for three years where she was part of the starting of the university voice program.
Katie was asked to turn pages for Luciano Pavarotti at the Orpheum in the late 1970’s! She found this to be fun, but terrifying.
She now has a beautiful new blue guitar which suits her perfectly. And she’s on her second round of lessons. A fellow resident, Barbara, was inspired to take up learning guitar as well!
According to a number of studies, it’s never too late to benefit from playing an instrument. A recent Vancouver Sun article cites,
“Before and after cognitive tests have shown that people in their 70s and 80s who have engaged in a short musical training course actually improve on memory testing. “We’re not sure why, but it’s probably enhancing the number of synapses,” Maguire explains.
“Music is probably the only activity you do that excites the whole brain.” So it might be time to dig out that dusty violin and trumpet.
So if you are looking for some inspiration, look to Katie’s story. Then pick up that instrument you’ve long wanted to learn to play. After all, it’s never too late.
Here’s a clip from an article Katie shared with us:
“Sing! There’s a musical pathway to a long and healthy life – singing. In a study of twenty members of the New York City Opera, Kathleen A McCormick, Ph.D., of the National Institute on Aging’s Gerentology Research Center in Baltimore, found that in tests of heart and lung function during sustained deep breathing, singers’ hearts worked more efficiently and heart rates were lower than those in a group of young (under forty) nonsingers. Those in the study were between twenty-eight and sixty-five years old, some smoked and some never excercised. “The cardiopulmonary differences were similar to those seen between conditioned athletes and untrained subjects during excercise testing”, said Dr. McCormick at the annual meeting of the American Lung Association. That’s why she commends enthusiastic song as one way to hold off declining heart and lung function that normally comes with age.”