Local seniors find a new hobby by picking up the guitar

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 15, 2013

A joyful noise can often be heard at Rufty-Holmes Senior Center on Monday afternoons.
It’s the sound of people strumming guitars, singing and laughing – at both themselves and each other.
Bob Wingate began giving guitar lessons at the senior center back in March during what he calls a “period of unemployment and discouragement.”
“I searched for a new source of fulfillment in my life,” he said. “Thank God that led me to Rufty-Holmes and being able to teach guitar classes there.
“The experience has been nothing short of amazing for me; I look forward each and every week to coming back to teach my wonderful students again.”
Since the inception of the class, Wingate has taught more than 50 students, including Janet Isenhour.
“I’ve always wanted to play guitar and, to be perfectly honest, this class is a good value,” she said.
Isenhour said Wingate’s advertisement announcing the class as for everyone even “absolute beginners” drew her in.
“That was the thing that made me not afraid to come to the class,” she said. “I knew we weren’t expected to know anything.”
So far, Isenhour has been pleased with her progress. She recently led the class in a rendition of “Joy to the World.”
“I can play a little bit to accompany myself and that’s all I care about doing,” she said. “I know I’m not ever going to give Chet Atkins a run for his money.”
Isenhour said it was easier to take the plunge of learning a new skill because friend Sandy Lauzon joined her.
“We came on the buddy plan,” Isenhour said. “We had been talking about it and saying we wished we could play, but we never acted. When we saw this class in the paper, we decided now was the time.”
Growing up, Lauzon’s mother played guitar.
“I was always inspired thinking somewhere within me I could play,” she said. “Of course, I proved myself way wrong on that theory, but it’s been a lot of fun and I’ve enjoyed it.”
Lauzon’s mother tried to teach her about 40 years ago, but the lessons didn’t stick.
“I just wasn’t ready for it,” she said. “I figured if I don’t do it now, I’m never doing to — time’s ticking.”
Like Isenhour, Lauzon doesn’t want to learn a lot, just enough to get by.
“I just want to know the basics so I can play along with my Sunday school class,” she said. “All three of my grandsons play some, so this will give me enough knowledge to play with them.”
Both Sarah Presson and Jim Beard already knew how to play guitar before enrolling in Wingate’s class, but neither had picked up the instrument in years.
“Back in 1973, which is when I bought this guitar, I lived in Rutherford County and there wasn’t anything to do on Friday or Saturday night but sit around and play guitars and mandolins, so I started playing chords and things back then,” Presson said. “Eventually, I moved away from the mountains and didn’t have anybody to play with.”
After retiring, Presson saw an advertisement for the course and started attending in order to expand on what she already knows.
“It’s really been enjoyable and I’ve learned a lot,” she said.
Beard first learned to play using a cheap guitar he purchased in college. Later, while attending college he purchased a nicer guitar and began playing folk music.
“When I got out of graduate school life intervened and I put the thing up for 40 years,” he said.
Learning how to play melody has been Beard’s top priority becausee he already knows chords.
“It’s like any learning process,” he said. “At times it seems chaotic because you’re trying to work through things, but it all comes together if you keep at it.”
Eleanor Qadirah, founder of the Rowan Blues & Jazz Society, said her love for the sound of guitar made her want to learn to play the instrument herself.
“One thing I’ve learned is that your fingertips have to be ready,” she said. “You know how you have to season those big iron skillets? You have to do the same thing with your fingers, you have to season them with calluses.”
After you get your fingers ready, Qadirah said, you have to get your mind together.
“Playing guitar really exercises the mind,” she said. “It’s really good for the mind, body and soul; I find it therapeutic.”
Wingate agrees playing the guitar can be quite therapeutic.
“It can actually bring peace to your soul,” he said. “It can calm and relax you and make you feel good.”
Isenhour said she’s found friendship and camaraderie in the class.
“There’s a mutual encouragement in the class,” she said. “Playing any instrument is a challenge, it’s a hard thing to do no matter what age you are, but it’s an achievable goal.”
Wingate said some of the people who originally signed up for the class have dropped out, but he’s hoping they’ll come back.
“We have a lot of people complaining of joint pain and, of course, playing the guitar involved flexibility of your fingers, so there’s more of a mental challenge to get over,” he said. “I’ve had some of my students say that through playing the guitar they’ve actually felt better because they are exercising their hands while doing something they enjoy.”
Wingate himself had to overcome a mental block when learning how to play.
“The Beatles were emerging on the scene at this time, and with their music captivating my imagination, I dreamed of being able to play and sound like them,” he said. “Unfortunately, reality soon left me overwhelmed and discouraged.
“My banging on the guitar didn’t measure up to my dreams, and the pain that I felt in my fingers from trying to hold down the metal strings often kept me awake at night.”
So, Wingate put down his guitar for about 10 years. He decided to pick it up again in order to be able to play with his youth group.
“I’m glad to say that 40 years later I’m still playing, and the guitar has become my lifelong friend, and an incredible source of joy and blessing to me,” he said.
Wingate starts up another class in January. Those interested in enrolling should call Rufty-Holmes at 704-216-7714 by Jan. 3 to sign up.