By MARILYN SHAPIRO
“What are you going to do when you retire?” As many of us edge closer to the age where we can take down our shingle, that question comes to us from family and friends. Our spouses, however, usually have something to add: “I don’t want you to sit home and do nothing! You need to find something to get you out of the house!”
For Jay Golden, finding a post retirement activity led him to a new passion: Playing a musical instrument.
Golden was born in 1938 in Manhattan to first generation U.S. Jewish parents. Eschewing their Orthodox households, his parents moved their family to Chicago.
Catches A Music Bug
In 1951, the Golden family purchased a 13-inch black and white set. Jay, now a teen, loved watching the shows featured during the dawn of the television age. His favorites included Flash Gordon (Syndication 1954-1955), The Lone Ranger (ABC, 1949-1957), and Don Winslow of the Navy, a series that was originally shown in movie theaters. As much as he loved the stories, he was even more fascinated by the classical music that accompanied the shows.
Through his research and visits to local record stores, he learned that the superhero Flash Gordon vanquished his enemies to the music of “Les Preludes” by Franz Liszt. “Don Winslow of the Navy” buoyed his patriotic spirit to the music of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Fingal’s Cave.” And how could anyone who grew up in the 1940s and ’50s forget the stirring opening from “The Lone Ranger,” which was the overture to “William Tell” by Gioachino Rossini?
Using money he earned through his allowance and odd jobs, Golden began collecting vinyl records of the classics. He graduated from the University of Illinois in 1962 and the University of Chicago in 1968. When he married Ellen Lewis in 1977, his 200+ vinyl collection soon gave way to the newer technology—compact disc. (CDs) His knowledge and appreciation of the music, composers, and the performers continued to grow.
From Appreciation To Player
Fortunately, Jay and Ellen’s city, Rochester, N.Y. provides many opportunities for classical music appreciation. The University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music hosted concerts by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra as well as performances by its students. Nearby Nazareth College also offered a strong undergraduate and graduate music education program.
While Ellen pursued her career in law, Jay used his urban planning degree in partnership with shopping center developers and then as developer of affordable housing of projects in N.Y., OH, PA, and Puerto Rico. During that time, Jay served on the house committees of Temple B’rith Kodesh and Temple Sinai in Rochester, sharing his experience with building maintenance, affordable housing development and property management.
By 2005, Golden was thinking ahead to his retirement. Wife Ellen encouraged him to find a productive way to spend his future spare time, especially during Rochester’s long cold winters. Although he had always loved listening to classical music, he had never played a musical instrument. He considered the violin, but decided it was too difficult to begin learning in his 70s. He thought briefly about playing a trumpet, but the idea of “tooting his own horn” quickly dissipated.
One day, while listening to “The Moldau” the second movement of a six-movement suite, Má Vlast (My Country), by Czech composer Bedrich Smetana, Golden found himself imitating the finger movement on the flute, which is used prominently in the piece. It was a revelatory moment for Golden, leading him to decide to play the wind instrument. Although he was still working fulltime, his boss was supportive of his new avocation, giving him the time off that he needed for his lessons. He rented a Yamaha student flute from a local music store and began lessons with a doctoral candidate from the Eastman School.
From the beginning, Golden was aware that he faced a steep learning curve. “When I began with the flute,” he recalled, “I knew nothing about reading music, much less how to play it.”
After a year of lessons, Golden attended a tryout session at the Eastman Music School’s New Horizons. The music program, which is part of wider umbrella of programs that are offered throughout the United States and Canada, provides learning experiences for seniors who play at any of three levels of proficiency: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. The person who was responsible for the tryout, however, was unwelcoming and dismissive of the aspiring flutist. He pointed to a small room and told Golden, “That room is for the newbies. Go in there.”
Golden walked out.
A Learning Experience
However, Golden did not give up on the flute. Although his first teacher was an accomplished musician, he soon realized that teaching was not her forte. So he began taking one-hour lessons twice a month with an adjunct professor of flute at Nazareth College.
Three years after his first negative encounter, Golden tried out again for the New Horizons Music Program and was, as he reports, “more politely invited to participate” as one of the 150 seniors involved with the three levels of bands. Golden described the diversity in experience, “There are many who played their instrument in middle or high school, put it away until they retired and wanted to have something to do, and then there were quite a few who, like myself, had zero instrumental musical experience.” Golden started in beginner band and gradually worked his way up to the intermediate level. The band practiced one hour a week and it provided him not only a musical, but also a social experience.
For several years, Golden played on his rented Yamaha student flute until he recognized that his teacher’s flute sounded so much warmer. She told him, “If you can distinguish the difference in how my flute and yours sounds, you’re ready for a better instrument.” So he purchased a Wm. A. Haines “Amadeus” flute, which he now plays every day. “It is an absolutely beautiful instrument and a thrill to hold and play,” he said, proudly adding that the first and second chair flutes of the Rochester Philharmonic also play Haines flutes. Golden left the New Horizons program in November of 2021. He explained that the program’s repertoire focuses on more popular music, including Broadway show tunes, movie themes, and songs by The Beatles and Billy Joel. As his first love is classical music, he made the decision to “play for myself.” He has continued his twice a month one-hour lessons. Although he never was able to master the Smetana Moldau score—“it is quite beyond my ability,” Golden mused—he has enjoyed playing many other classical pieces including several sections of “The Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi.
At 85, he is still learning. Along with his twice a month one-hour flute lesson, he also is studying German thorough Oasis, an adult learning program. Every Thursday, he takes back-to-back classes in both intermediate and advanced German. Jay noted that the latter class is particularly difficult in that students are required to translate from sections of a German language biography of Alexander Von Humboldt, an influential scientist and thinker of the 19th century, into English. Students are also required to speak the passages out loud, a test of pronunciation and diction.
This past month, Jay and Ellen extended their time at a destination wedding in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, by five days to celebrate their 46th anniversary. Even though they did not look forward to returning to snow and cold of upstate N. Y., Jay Golden was looking forward to continuing his musical journey. He is also adjusting to some of the challenges of being an octogenarian musician. Golden stated that the most important elements of playing the flute, besides knowing what fingers to put down for what note, is embouchure. The older I get the more difficult it becomes to keep my lips supple,” he said adding, “Nobody said it would be easy, but at least I don’t have arthritis to slow me down.”
Nor does much else slow Jay Golden down! He, like many others after their retirement, has found a wonderful “second act.”
May he go from strength to strength!
Marilyn Shapiro, formerly of Clifton Park, is now a resident of Kissimmee, Fla. A second compilation of her articles printed in The Jewish World has been published. Tikkun Olam now joins There Goes My Heart. She recently published Fradel’s Story, a compilation of stories by her mother that she edited. Shapiro’s blog is theregoesmyheart.me.