James W. Brown, associate dean of IU School of Journalism at IUPUI, was listening to WFYI-FM on his way to work when he was inspired by a Noah Adams report about taking up piano in mid-life.
"The mere mention Ö put the idea in my mind," Brown says. He went to a piano-playing neighbor who lent him a spare electronic keyboard. For three months, Brown taught himself enough to play recognizable tunes. Convinced this was no passing fancy, Brown carefully researched pianos, deciding on a Yamaha Clavinova. "Its advantage over other digital pianos is its weighted keys, which is the same as an acoustic piano, making crossover possible," Brown explains. He returned his neighbor"s keyboard, installed his new-found passion in the front parlor of his home, purchased books and asked his neighbor to record "Moonlight Sonata" so he could hear how it should sound. Then he patiently worked his way to proficiency, going so far as to gift his family and friends with mini-recitals following the mastery of each composition. The diligence and perseverance has paid off. A year later, with three months of formal lessons with Bill Budai, director of the IUPUI Music Academy, Brown is performing in programs on what he calls "the small stage." Following his debut public appearance at Irvington Methodist Church, Brown played at the Ronald McDonald House as part of a group of student volunteers. Budai, with whom Brown has completed 18 weeks of half-hour private lessons, says, "I was impressed when Dr. Brown and I talked about his taking lessons. No one else I"ve worked with had gone as far as he has on his own, learning proper technique and interpretation." Budai commented that, unfortunately, most people who self-teach have to unlearn bad technique before they can progress, which is why he suggests instruction from a trained teacher. Asked if he has favorite pieces, Brown says he has "eclectic interests," and paints a broad swath from James Bond theme songs to Beethoven to jazz to pop to show tunes. "I do have to agree, though, when I play just before going to bed, I"m a lot more relaxed. It"s been pretty nice." The science behind the music
The IUPUI Music Academy started in the fall of 1996 to fill a community need, with a cost level that seems reasonable for most individuals and families. The three-part program during the year-round academic calendar covers all instruments, voice and movement for children 18 months to age 12, adult group classes with four to six in each and private lessons for all ages, starting with children age 5 or 6, depending on the child. Annual adjudication is part of the program, providing students with an assessment of their playing by an outside credentialed music teacher. "It"s a personally tailored program," Budai explains. (Call 278-2593 or visit http://musicacademy.iupui.edu/) The academy, with a faculty of 20 teachers who are also performing musicians, is not unlike other venues that provide music lessons to all comers. A conversation with Craig Gigax, president of Meridian Music Company, corroborates Budai"s point that a growing number of adults are taking music making seriously. Of the 1,300 lessons given through the store"s education program, a large percentage are adults, including several sports figures. (Call Meridian Music at 575-9588) "Active music making is being proved as beneficial to adults - especially older adults - as for children," Gigax says, citing a study available at www.musica.uci.edu (University of California at Irvine"s Music and Science Information Computer Archive, a bibliographic research database of information on music as it relates to behavior, the brain and related subjects). "Researchers finding evidence of specific reactions in the brain to music" was featured on the Feb. 23, 2002, Sound Medicine program on WFYI-FM. They cited the Power of Music study Web site. The June 9, 2001, program touched on music as therapy for people with cancer. The Center for Mind-Body Medicine and the American Music Therapy Association Web sites provide more data on these studies. Lori Plummer, manager of media relations and promotions at WFYI-Teleplex, reports Piano Lessons: Music, Love, & True Adventures by Noah Adams is available online and in your favorite bookstore, as well as at the library.