When Gary Anderson took up playing the guitar again after 30 years, he realized he wanted to be able to sing along with it, so he signed up for voice lessons. Now singing has opened the door to a second career.
Voice lessons had been on Cindy Dittmer's bucket list for a long time. Now she's facing a deadline perhaps even tighter than the proverbial bucket — she and her husband are leaving this fall on a global, multiyear sailing expedition.
Krishna Sheshan retired from his engineering career and found himself talking so little from day to day that his wife complained his voice was fading. He thought voice lessons might help.
And Charles Reinhart signed up for voice lessons after his mother asked him to sing at her funeral.
"I said, 'OK, I'll do that,' Reinhart said. "'But you have to promise me you'll hang in there long enough so I can learn to sing.'"
The four of them attend the same voice class at the MacPhail Center for Music. There, professional singer and instructor Andrea Leap explains technical aspects of singing, demonstrates how to shift a song's mood with rhythm or syncopation, assigns them songs to work on at home, boosts their confidence.
None of them expects to turn into Frank Sinatra or Aretha Franklin. But they're improving their singing, learning new concepts, and growing in other unexpected ways.
"Andrea, she's a good teacher," Sheshan said. "She says everybody can sing."
Anderson, 63, of Mounds View quit his drywall work and moved back to Minnesota in 2005 to help his ailing father. When he had more free time Anderson, once a guitarist in a regionally successful rock band called Clearwater, decided to pick up the instrument again.
He began offering free performances at farmers markets and coffee shops, which led to an offer of a paying job. The owner of two nursing homes "said she could keep me as busy as I wanted to be — maybe even more busy," he said.
Now Anderson has a full schedule of senior-home gigs, where he performs old standards like "Clementine," "On Top of Old Smoky," "Shine on, Harvest Moon" — "the kind of music I really enjoy playing" — and residents sing along. Sometimes one or two of his MacPhail classmates join him on stage.
"They don't pay much, but to me anything is wonderful," Anderson said. "I can't believe I'm actually earning money doing them …. I can't imagine what else I could do that would bring me so much fulfillment."
Dittmer, 54, a retired bookkeeper in Prior Lake, realized that if she didn't take voice lessons now she'd miss her chance. She's squeezing them in while getting ready for the sailing adventure — a longtime dream her husband had that she was happy to share. The couple could be gone seven to 10 years, she said, visiting Argentina, French Polynesia and who knows where else.
"We're going to take our time," she said. "We'll never get there again, and I want to see everything."
After he retired as an engineer, Sheshan would go days without talking much, and his wife was complaining that she could barely hear his voice anymore.
"I never thought I could sing," said Sheshan, 67, who lives in Minneapolis and is originally from India. But sure enough, his voice has gotten stronger. He's been joining Anderson at the nursing-home singalongs, and would like to do more performing. "I like the idea of doing something with these guys, if possible."
Reinhart, 73, of Minneapolis grew up in Warroad, Minn., in a family that liked to sing together (partly, he says, because electricity hadn't yet reached Warroad, so stereos and radios weren't available). Eventually, though, he lost the habit.
"Somewhere along the line, I got the idea that I really couldn't sing," he said.
Now, thanks to the lessons, Reinhart sings when the mood strikes. He built a music room, with recording capabilities, in his home. His lessons have given him so much confidence that he and Sheshan recently sang together for a group of guests on Reinhart's deck.
"If somebody else doesn't enjoy it, well, they can go listen to somebody else," Reinhart said.
But the lessons have another benefit that's not directly related to singing, said Reinhart, who is also a retired engineer.
"I've got goals, I've got new things to learn," he said. "It gives me a feeling that I've got somewhere to go, that this isn't the end of the trail."