Each Wednesday, a team of adults who missed their chance the first time around hoist their violins and lean into their cellos, beginner musicians finally able to live their dream of playing with an orchestra.
Their conductor-instructor is Marta Findlay-Partridge, a retired Wake County schools orchestra teacher, who leads the Triangle Area Community Orchestra – or TACO, for short – via an open-enrollment class each semester at Meredith College.
Staff writer Chelsea Kellner spoke to Findlay-Partridge last week about the challenges of learning an instrument as an adult, what draws musicians to one instrument over another and more. Responses have been edited for length.
Q: Why is it important for beginner musicians to have the experience of playing in a group?
The nature of music itself almost demands that you play with other people. There’s a call and response aspect to it.
Q: What kind of reactions do you get from first-time students?
They are so thrilled, because they have wanted to do it for so long. They have this appreciation you can only have from an adult viewpoint. Children are excited when they start playing, but as an adult, when you have gone to see symphony concerts and have dreamed of doing this so many years and not been able to, for them to hear what it sounds like to play in an orchestra and be part of that is great for them.
Q: What are the challenges of learning an instrument as an adult?
The limitations of time – you’ve got the obligations of family and job. That’s hard. How do you fit in practice time when you’re an adult? But they are so devoted, they will move heaven and earth to play that instrument.
Q: What makes people do that?
There is a power to music that is almost unexplainable. It draws people to it. That’s a big motivator. The other thing I see is that there is a certain kind of camaraderie that happens, almost this magical combination of sound, time, speed, all of those things together, plus the genius of the composer. When they do all of this together and hear how beautiful it is, people have a very lovely reaction.
Q: Is it harder to learn an instrument as an adult?
It’s somewhat harder from a physical standpoint, to get your fingers to move that fast or get the balance correct, but in other ways it’s easier, because you can process information on a different level, because you have lived life and solved many puzzles in your lifetime, so you make connections very quickly.
Q: What’s the most popular instrument for adults to learn?
It’s funny, we spent the first part of our existence with no cello – then all of a sudden we have like nine.
People have an affinity for certain sounds: Some people like the low tones, other people like the high ones, some like the melodic ones, which would be violin. Some like the mellow middle – that would be viola and second violin. It’s like how people have preferences for certain colors or certain food tastes.