Local Seniors Strike A Chord In Music

Posted on May 22, 2014 by  
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Kevin McCabe Teaching MusicWhen ukulele teacher Kevin McCabe led a class at The Terraces at Los Altos last week, his senior students hit a trend head-on: The tiny instrument once strummed by Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe has become something of a hipster sensation.

For the senior set, classes are, by nature, social enterprises. Last week at The Terraces three residents and one enlisted reporter divided up the chords of “Aloha ‘Oe” and, together, fleshed out a song as uke rookies. When Gwen Farey, Barbara Woods and Libby Stager struck a chord last week, they were building on a lifetime of musical experiences. Although I may have mastered a G chord, I found my ability to keep time sadly out shined.

McCabe teaches afterschool programs and at senior communities. Although he comes from three generations of banjo players, he moonlighted in the tech field during more than a decade of his musical career.

“I worked in software for many years at NASA,” McCabe said. “But when I stayed home to take care of my kids, I started the Saratoga Music Academy.”

When a student of any age picks up a ukulele, there are some eccentricities to allow for. The four strings are often tuned in a surprising order, with the outer two higher on the scale than the center two, rather than a steadily rising sequence from low to high pitch.

For arthritic knuckles, the ukelele’s soft nylon strings don’t present too dire a workout, and players can experiment with different ways to hold and strum the instrument, customized to every physique.

Seniors can spread the ukulele across a family, playing with grandchildren. All generations benefit from the math behind the music – practicing the mind-body connection encoded in notation hones timing as well as tuning. Music might soothe the soul, but it also sharpens the brain.

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