Strategy for positive aging: Life choice to keep learning

“What are you going to do when you retire?” As many of us edge closer to the age where we can hang up our shingle, that question comes to us from family and friends. Our spouses, however, usually have something to add: “I don’t want you to sit home and do nothing! You need to find something to get you out of the house!”

For Jay Golden, finding something led him to a new passion for which he only had imagined: Playing a musical instrument. 

Jay was born in 1938 in Manhattan to first generation Jewish parents. Eschewing their Orthodox households, the couple moved their family to Chicago. 

In 1951, the Goldens purchased a 13 inch black and white set. Jay, now a teenager, loved watching the shows featured on at the dawn of the televisions age. His favorites included Flash Gordon (Syndication 1954-1955), The Lone Ranger (ABC, 1949-1957), and Don Winslow of the Navy, a series that originally shown in movie theaters.

As much as he loved the stories, Jay was even more fascinated by the classical music that accompanied the shows. Through his research and visits to local record stores, he learned that the superhero Flash Gordon vanquished his enemies to the music of  “Les Preludes” by Franz Liszt.  “Don Winslow of the Navy” buoyed his patriotic spirt to the music of Felix Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture (“Fingals Cave.”). And how could any who grew up in the 1940s and 1950s forget the stirring opening from The Lone Ranger, which was the overture to “William Tell” by Gioachino Rossini?

Using money he earned through his allowance and odd jobs, Jay began collecting vinyl records of the classics. He graduated from the University of Illinois in 1962 and the University of Chicago in 1968. When he married Ellen Lewis in 1977, his 200+ vinyl collection soon gave way to the newer technology—compact discs (CD’s). His knowledge and appreciation of the music, composers, and the performers continued to grow. 

Fortunately,Jay and Ellen’s home town, Rochester, New York, provides ample opportunities for classical music. The University of Rochester’s prestigious Eastman School of Music hosted concerts by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra as well as performances by their students. Nearby Nazareth College offered a strong undergraduate and graduate music education program.

While Ellen pursued her career in law, Jay used his urban planning degree in partnership with shopping center developers and then as developer of affordable housing of projects in NY, OH, PA, and Puerto Rico. During that time, Jay served on the house committees of Temple B’rith Kodesh and Temple Sinai in Rochester, sharing his extensive experience with building maintenance, affordable housing development and property management. 

By 2005, Jay was thinking ahead to his retirement. Wife Ellen encouraged him to find a productive way to spend his spare time, especially during Rochester’s long cold winters. Although he had always loved listening to classical music, he had never played a musical instrument. He considered the violin, but decided was too difficult to begin learning in his seventies. He thought briefly about playing a trumpet, but the idea of “tooting his own horn” quickly dissipated.

One day, while listening to “The Moldau” the second movement of a six-movement suite, Má vlast (My Country), by Czech composer Bedrich Smetana, Jay found himself imitating the finger movement on the flute, which is used prominently in the piece. It was a revelatory moment for Jay, leading him to decide to pursue learning to play the wind instrument. Although he was still working full time, his boss was very supportive of Jay’s new avocation, giving him the time off needed for his lessons. He rented a Yamaha student flute from a local music store and began lessons with a doctoral candidate from the Eastman School.

From the beginning, Jay was aware he faced a steep learning curve. “When I began with the flute,” recalled Jay, “I knew nothing about reading music, much less how to play it.” 

After a year of lessons, Jay attended a tryout session at the Eastman Music School’s New Horizons. The music program, which is part of wider umbrella of programs that are offered throughout in the United States and Canada, provides experience for seniors who played at any of three levels of proficiency: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. The person who was responsible for the tryout, however, was unwelcoming and dismissive the aspiring flutist. He pointed to a small room and told Jay, “That room is for the newbies. Go in there.” Jay walked out.

However, Jay did not give up on the flute. Although his first teacher was an accomplished musician, he realized that teaching was not her forte. He began taking one-hour lessons twice a month with an adjunct professor  of flute at Nazareth College.

Three years after his negative encounter, Jay tried out again for the New Horizons Music Program and was, as he said, “more politely invited to participate” as one of the 150 seniors involved the three levels of bands. Jay described the diversity in experience.”There are many who played their instrument in middle or high school, put it away until they retired and wanted to have something to do,” said Jay. “Then there were quite a few who, like myself, had zero instrumental musical experience.” Jay started in beginner band and gradually worked his way up to intermediate level band. The band practiced one hour a week and provided not only a musical but also a social experience. 

For several years, Jay played on his rented Yamaha student flute until he recognized that his teacher’s flute sounded so much warmer. She told Jay, “If you can distinguish the difference in how my flute and yours sounds, you’re ready for a better instrument.” So Jay purchased a Wm. A. Haines “Amadeus” flute, which he now plays every day. “It is an absolutely beautiful instrument and a thrill to hold and play,” he said, proudly adding that the first and second chair flutes of the Rochester Philharmonic play the Haines flutes. 

After seven years, Jay left in New Horizons November 2021. He explained that the program’s repertoire focuses on more popular music, including Broadway show tunes, movie themes, and songs by The Beatles and Billy Joel. As his first love is classical music, he made the decision to “play for myself.” He has continued his twice a month one-hour lessons. Although he never was able to master Smetana’s Moldau score—“it is quite beyond my ability,” Jay mused—he has enjoyed playing many other classical pieces including several sections of “The Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi.

At 85, Jay is still learning. Along with his monthly one-hour flute lesson, he also is studying German thorough Oasis, an adult learning program. Every Thursday, he takes back to back classes in both intermediate and advanced German. Jay noted that the advanced class is especially difficult in that students are required to translate from sections of a German language biography of Alexander Von Humboldt, one of the most influential scientists and thinkers of the nineteenth century, into English. Students are also required to speak the passages out loud, a test of pronunciation and diction.

This past month, Jay and Ellen extended their time at a destination wedding in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, by five days to celebrate their 46th anniversary. Even though they did not look forward to returning to snow and cold of Upstate New York, Jay is looking forward to continuing his musical journey. He is also adjusting to some of the challenges of an octogenarian musician. Jay stated that the most important element of playing the flute, beside knowing what fingers to put down for what note, is embouchure. “The older I get the more difficult it becomes to keep my lips supple,” Jay said. “Nobody said it would be easy, but at least I don’t have arthritis to slow me down.” 

Nor does much else slow Jay Golden down! He, like many others after their retirement, has found a wonderful “second act.” May he go from strength to strength!

First published in (Capital Region NY’s) The Jewish World, February 2, 2023.

4 thoughts on “Strategy for positive aging: Life choice to keep learning

  1. chattomuch

    Hi Marilyn,

    …after Fingles cave is a typo


    div>Any should be anyone??

    Sent from my iPhone


    div dir=”ltr”>


    blockquote type=”cite”>

    1. shapcomp18 Post author

      Hi… Don’t remember who you are by chattomuch. Cannot find typo after Fingal’s Cave. Don’t understand other suggestions. If you have editing, please send to my email as I don’t want to show as a comment. Thanks!

      Marilyn Shapiro Author/Blogger Blog: It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it. Rabbi Tarfon, Pirkei Avot 2:21

  2. chattomuch

    Hi Marilyn

    During the flute tryout

    It says, “dismissive “


    div>Should be dismissive of?

    Sent from my iPhone


    div dir=”ltr”>


    blockquote type=”cite”>

  3. Ruth Kiflawi

    Inspiring story. I’m wondering if these Golden’s are related to the Golden family who were connected to the Goldens who ran Camp Chateugay after Rose’s. Those Goldens were, I believe, from Rochester as were the Roses who owned Camp Chateaugay before the Goldens. (A little Jewish geography) Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android


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