After childhood and adulthood there is a third age of man, an age in which the ignorance and naivety of youth have evaporated, the responsibilities of work and parenthood have been largely left behind and we are free to use our time-ripened talents in any way we choose.
In affluent countries with modern healthcare the number of third-agers is increasing rapidly; in the UK nearly a quarter of the population is now over 60. In recognition of this untapped pool of knowledge, skills and experience a UK version of the University of the Third Age was founded in 1982. There are now 1000 independent U3A organisations in the UK all affiliated to the Third Age Trust, a national charity, and with links to many other U3As across the globe. Unlike the Université du Troisième Âge in France, whose individual groups were guided by their local university, the UK U3As are entirely independent of academic institutions, relying instead on their members to provide education in its widest sense.
The Crotchety Couple joined our local Charnwood U3A last year. With over 80 interest groups covering the whole gamut of arts, sciences and leisure activities there’s something for almost every third-ager still active in mind and body. There were two music-related groups last summer: Classical Music Enjoyment and Singing for Pleasure. Neither of those piqued Crotchety Man’s interest enough to join. Then, in September, a proposal for a Making Music group appeared in the newsletter and the glowing coals in Crotchety’s musical grate were fanned with the bellows of enthusiasm once more. Eyes aflame he fired off an email expressing his interest.
For various health and personal reasons the Making Music group took a while to come together. We met for the first time on 9th March and had our first rehearsal two weeks later. As you can imagine we are a somewhat motley crew. The instrument list goes like this: several recorders, flute, clarinet, trombone, piano, guitar, bass guitar and African drum/percussion. Almost everyone had played a bit a long time ago and is now very rusty. We needed something to play that was both simple and familiar. Our leader selected a couple of show tunes for us to try and something vaguely resembling music issued from our tubes and strings. Well, it was a start.
In my case it wasn’t clear which instrument I should play. I had been taught to play the clarinet at school but switched to bass guitar when I went to university. Over the years I have also owned an electronic organ, a semi-acoustic guitar, a piano and an electric piano all of which I messed around with but never seriously tried to play. The organ and piano went to better homes decades ago. The guitar, bass, amp, speakers and electric piano spent 17 years gathering dust in a back room. Before moving house in 2015 I sold all instruments and equipment except the electric piano (which, you remember, I can’t play). So the question was: should I learn to play the one instrument I still own or borrow something from our leader’s collection acquired over many years of teaching music?
At the first rehearsal we had a pianist who, though hesitant, far surpassed my own abilities. A borrowed acoustic guitar seemed to offer the best opportunity for me to contribute and I strummed it as best I could. I had to miss rehearsal 2 (for a funeral) and by rehearsal 3 another five songs had been added to the group’s repertoire. One of the new songs was that perennial favourite, Summertime, from Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess. That’s a song composed in 1934, well outside the qualifying period for this blog, but it’s a classic and I’m featuring a relatively recent version by Rick Wakeman, whose latest album, Piano Portraits, includes this rather nice arrangement for solo piano.
There are three more reasons for choosing this version of Summertime as my Track of the Week: Rick Wakeman is currently touring in Italy and will bring his Piano Portraits show to UK venues later this month¹; Rick was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last week as a member of Yes; at 67 Rick is well into his third age and his piano playing reminds me why I could never be anything more than a moderately enthusiastic amateur musician (on any instrument).
Now I must go and practice my new electro-acoustic guitar and see if I can play the chords for the U3A group’s arrangement of Summertime. Let’s see … Am, E7, Am, E7 … Oops! That Dm always catches me out. OK, once more from the top. 1, 2, 3, and …
- I shall be getting tickets for the performance at the De Montfort Hall in Leicester on 17th June, I hope.
- According to Wikipedia there are over 25,000 recordings of Summertime and there’s a fairly comprehensive selection of them on this website dedicated to the song. Rick’s version, though, seems to be missing.