In late June, 2013, 77-year-old Helga Beier will perform a 20-minute recital at the Theatersaal of the University in Bremen, Germany.
Her piano playing was brought to a standstill during World War II while in her 20s. Germany was at war and people couldn't make long-term plans.
A half a century later, she rediscovered the instrument, exactly realizing the repertoire she wanted to practice and perform.
Retirement freed her from financial and family pressures, providing her with time to reunite with the piano.
Unexpectedly, she turned away her attention from the traditional classical repertoire – Mozart or Beethoven – and focused on contemporary classical music like Kurtag, Boulez, Cage or Schoenberg.
"Not precisely mainstream," says her teacher Juan María Solare.
“It was a difficult choice for her, finding a teacher who loves and understands experimental avant-garde music," says Solare, a Buenos Aires-born pianist and composer who has lived in Germany since 1993.
Helga had listened to hours of classical and pop music but she needed to experiment with something new.
Another student of Solare, Markus Deinhard, a 50-Plus pediatrician, will also perform in the recital at the Theatersall. He has played piano as a hobby since youth and approached Solare to overcome his time constraints.
The physician practices music after working hours, integrating it in his life as a non-professional. His challenge is to attain the right notes and give shape to music through performance and interpretation.
"He wants to understand how the piece was composed,” Solare says.
The 20 minute recitals before a small audience provide an adequate challenge. "More than 20 minutes would be too much pressure, playing less wouldn't be enough."
The return to a musical instrument is a pay-back for a debt to themselves, a fulfilment of the need to positively reconnect with their past. Intrinsic motivation is the key for older adults returning to music. They’re uninterested in becoming professionals.
Despite years or decades, they recognize they haven't lost their musical skills. Complacency is the obstacle. They've retained their aptitude, but still need to make a rigorous sacrifice to attain a higher stage. The reward is to accept the test and pass with flying colors.
"My art as a teacher is to sense what I can do to require the personal best from each student, neither over nor falling too short.”
"This is bliss! They can create music without second thoughts," Solare says. "They're not worried about selling songs or undermining the joy of making music.”
For Helga and Markus, public concerts give their musical efforts an external, visible goal, as they do for Solare's younger piano pupils. Annual recitals before a small audience – usually fewer than 50 people – are concrete indicators of improvement.
They have rediscovered the joys of performing live music with the help of a capable teacher.