February 21, 2003

Stir Up the Retired Artist Within You

Filed under: Art and About the Everyday — admin @ 10:16 pm

When Moraga’s Ray Muer retired from the broadcasting industry 10 years ago, he wondered briefly what he was going to do during the newest phase of his life.

“I asked myself, ‘What am I going to do with my time? Play golf?’” he recalls.

Golf wasn’t the answer for Muer. He decided to return to his first love, the piano, and launched a career as a jazz pianist. He promised himself that however he spent his time, he would do it well. He took piano lessons as a kid, but never practiced more than an hour a day. The baseball field always beckoned. But for the last 10 years, Muer has been practicing four or five hours a day, plus playing gigs at night. He has studied with local jazz pianists, and treated himself to a 7-foot Yamaha grand piano to help hone his skills. When he was first getting into the swing of things, he was afraid to travel and be away from his practice sessions for too long, so he would work on his technique on the airplane tray table while in flight.
“My wife thought I was nuts,” Muer chuckles.

The hard work paid off, though. You may have heard Muer playing his dinner jazz repertoire at Prima’s or Scott’s restaurants in Walnut Creek, Jack’s Bistro in Jack London Square or at the Claremont County Club.

I have talked to a lot of retired Lamorinda folks pursing a second vocation or avocation in the arts. If it weren’t for them, I’m not sure we could fill the Sun arts page every week. They tend to fall into two categories — those who wait until retirement to do what they always really wanted to do, and those who rekindle an old artistic passion during retirement. Some of the latter group admit that they went back to memories of what they enjoyed doing in kindergarten, or grade school, to discover that their lives could use a little more paint, photography, sculpting, music, dance or theater.

I think covering the artistic community in Lamorinda is particularly inspiring for any of us who strive to make the arts a part of our daily lives. When the Sun arts page isn’t tapping into the talents of the retired community, we are often sharing the story of a stay-at-home mom who preserves a part of her life for the arts to balance herself creatively and spiritually with the demands of motherhood. The people we write about who are able to make a partial living in the arts usually have a steadier, non-artistic career on the side. Even the managing artistic director of the Town Hall Theatre has had to keep his day job. You expect this sort of thing in New York or Los Angeles where we presume every waiter is an actor. But your very own PTA president or dry cleaner or doctor maybe be living a double life as well.

All of these devoted artists are heroes of mine because they don’t let their passions die. It is too easy to forever put down that instrument after high school graduation. Or to let the paint pots dry up. Or to never go to another theater audition.

Whether a passion is golf, jazz piano or reading, those who live to retirement age with health and spirit intact are the lucky ones. When they look back on their lives as a whole, they will probably see a complete and fulfilling picture. My wish for the rest of us, though, is that we make the time to pursue our loves whether we’re 18, 30, 45 or 65.

My dad used to always talk about what he would do when he retired. The list was long, but his eyes always twinkled when he mentioned this or that fantasy. He died one month before his sixty-fifth birthday. Although I am certain he lived a life without regrets, I regret that I’ll never know what magic his retirement years had in store for him. He always said, “You never know, tomorrow I might be hit by a bus,” when he decided to do something whimsical or decadent. His bus happened to be cancer. For me, that collision was a bullhorn reminder of how the clock relentlessly tick-tocks our lives away regardless of how we’re spending our time. Maybe we should all pursue our passions as if a little part of us is already retired.