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©2000 The Novartis Foundation for Gerontology

Lindsay Lafford

  I was born in Gloucester, England, in October 1912, which makes me currently 87 years old.

  My career was entirely involved with music--as cathedral chorister, organ scholar and assistant, organist at three Anglican cathedrals and Princeton University, and college professor (with a two-and-a-half-year lacuna while serving in the US Navy during WWII, during which, as it happened, I was still involved with music).

  First retired in 1979 because I'd reached the then-mandatory retirement age of 65 a year earlier, I became associated with the University of Miami (as Adjunct Professor, director of the Foreign Language Lab, and University Carillonneur) for the next fifteen years, simultaneously serving as organist/choir director at St. Philip's Church, Coral Gables.

  I then elected to retire completely, and took up residence in a retirement community named Friendship Village in Tempe, Arizona.

  Always completely occupied and active throughout my life, I'm delighted that a great deal of this activity continues. I spend a good part of my time composing music, much of it commissioned, a pursuit tremendously aided by the availability of computer programs for printing, playing, and editing music. My output has increased vastly since I acquired the first really viable such program in 1986. The mechanical chores formerly associated with writing music and making copies by hand have now largely disappeared, taken over by the uncomplaining and tireless computer; and the resulting product is no longer questionably-legible manuscript, but printing of publishable quality.

  In addition to this activity with composing I'm in frequent demand to conduct performances of these works, and to continue playing the organ, my principal instrument. For example: last year, in the Spring, I conducted a performance of a piece I'd written for chorus and saxophone quartet; in June I accompanied, on the piano, my daughter in a recital in Clare Hall, Cambridge University, England, in which ten of my songs were included (five of which had been written for her in the first place back in 1988). In August I attended a performance in Norwich Cathedral of a festival anthem of mine commissioned for the occasion.

  In October I played the organ part in three performances of Saint-Saëns' Third Symphony (the so-called "Organ Symphony") with the Scottsdale Symphony Orchestra, playing also, at the conductor's request, the Bach Toccata and Fugue in d minor. In December I wrote a Christmas Fanfare for chorus and double brass quartet and conducted it in two performances. In January I conducted three performances of "Salute to the Scottsdale Symphony," which I'd written on learning that the orchestra was celebrating its 25th anniversary this season.

  In just over a week I'll be conducting in Phoenix the première performance of my setting of The Song of Solomon, for chorus and instrumental accompaniment. In April I've been invited to conduct two performances of the Brahms Requiem in Virginia in which a number of my students from long ago are involved, including my daughter. In June I expect to be conducting music of mine commissioned by Meldorf Cathedral, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany (one of many such performances in that location in the past several years). In August I plan to attend a performance of an anthem of mine commissioned for performance in Derby Cathedral, England, and on October 21 I'm invited to conduct a performance by the Huntingdonshire Philharmonic (Cambridge, England) of a work I'm just completing for full orchestra and chorus.

  I'm fully convinced that this activity, with its high satisfaction quotient, plays an important role in my current well-being. To get out of bed eager to get back to the computer to continue work on a composition, and then to experience the pleasure when it all works out (especially now that one can hear the results immediately via the synthesizer and stereo without having to wait for a group of players to perform it as formerly was the case) is heady stuff indeed.

  Of course, the excellent medical care I receive cannot be discounted, nor the fact that Friendship Village is dedicated to the needs of an aging population. There are some 700 residents ranging in age from the sixties to the hundreds; we boast of 126 nonagenarians and at least 5 centenarians. The greater number of residents lead fully active lives depending, of course, on their varied interests.

  We're told that good health and longevity are acquired from one's parents. Mine lived into their 80s, their parents into their 70s and very early 80s. One of my mother's sisters achieved 99 1/2 years! Clearly, luck also plays a big part in this, and I've been fortunate enough to have avoided the many catastrophic diseases which could so easily have put an end to my activities. I've never had time (nor much inclination) to indulge in regular exercise, however, and, in fact, probably now live too much of a sedentary life because of my absorption with composing.

  I customarily eat dinner with a small group of residents who have sort of gravitated together. While we rarely have any contact other than at this one meal time, we have established almost a family relationship. We show concern for one another and are interested in one another's activities, news of family, future plans, views on current affairs, etc. When one is absent (very often on a cruise to distant climes or, as in my case, a 2-month sojourn in Europe every summer) he or she is missed and can look forward to a warm welcome on returning.

  Two members of this little group are in their nineties, and one of these, Leah, 94, is as spry and bright and active as anyone could be. She participates in virtually every activity and special event organized by the administration. Another, Erika, in her 80s, is the German-born widow of a former Commissioner of Education of the State of Arizona. Her pursuit of a doctorate in History in the University of Frankfurt was rudely interrupted by the onset of WWII, when the institution was pretty well destroyed and her research with it.

  She and I have something in common, for my late wife was born in Cologne. Erika's intelligent and well informed. She relates fascinating stories about life in Germany during the war, and is very knowledgeable about political and social concerns in Germany and Europe today, derived largely from newsletters (now largely e-mailed) which she receives regularly from Germany. She is small, lean, and wiry, leads weekly exercise groups based on ballet movements she learned as an instructor in physical education in Frankfurt when that was the only job available when the university closed, walks daily in the Superstition Mountains (where, I believe, the ashes of her late husband are buried), swims for an hour every day in our outdoor pool, and attends and writes for the bi-weekly Writing for Pleasure and the University's Book Review Club and Faculty Wives meetings, has a season ticket to the Phoenix Symphony--and still has time to bake cookies for this variety of commitments, always bringing me a sample of her culinary efforts. She complains that when I'm absent the dinner conversation becomes dull, so she's elated when I return. (I think it's because I'm more interested in her stories than are the others and, therefore, a better listener).

  One of the group joins us only on Sundays, when the main meal is at noon. In her advanced eighties, she grew up in Montana and led a vigorous outdoor life organizing treks into the wilderness and Jeep caravan excursions in various wild places (even, possibly, safaris in Africa). Though virtually blind--with macular degeneration, a widespread condition in this population--she strides about the campus with vigor and determination and, once having recognized a friend through the sound of the voice, will practically lay one low with a robust blow to the shoulder. In the past year she has had two artificial knee replacements. A measure of her nature is that she requested that both knees be done at the same time to cut down on the period of inactivity imposed by the surgery. Much to her chagrin the surgeon refused.

  She enjoys conducted trips to out-of-the-way places, going, two years ago, to Tibet. She's a bit embarrassed on these occasions at having to impose on someone to describe the scenes to her. Two years ago she joined a sort of Elderhostel rafting expedition through the Grand Canyon, especially organized for people with handicaps. She enjoyed it, rugged though it was, but commented that progress was slowed during lunchtime breaks and nighttime camping along the river gorge by the extra care needed in handling those in wheelchairs. (I found it hard to believe that the trip included people in wheelchairs, lashed on to the inflatable rafts. Those craft do turn turtle from time to time!)

  Most of our little group have family nearby or within reasonable reach. But one, Liz, seems to have no living relatives, and I think our little band provides a valuable component in her life. She has assumed the physical management of our dining arrangements, coming to the dining room early in order to make sure that all is properly arranged for the appropriate number. Her frequent complaint is that the "waitpersons" rarely set up the table as it should be. We tend to report impending absences to her so that she may invite others to occupy our places. Her successful career was in the field of graphic advertising, and she's a mine of information about layouts, measurements, type styles and so forth. She, too, suffers from macular degeneration, and reads anything now with great difficulty.

  I have rather fallen into the role of conversation leader, bringing along little bits of current news and events of interest in order to stimulate discussion. I also collect the humorous stories my various e-mail correspondents send me (very frequently in the case of one former student), and regale my dinner-mates with such as will bear repetition in mixed company. We often have a good laugh together, and I like to think that this is of benefit to them and to me.

  One of the nonagenarians is physically handicapped, attended by a full-time rota of care-givers, and beginning to show symptoms of failing memory. While her short-term memory loss is distressing, she can recall with relish her early experiences in her native Sweden; and the way she enjoys a hearty laugh at the stories is highly gratifying to the storyteller and the other members of the group. The only other male of this group collects my printouts of these bits of edifying e-mail to forward to his brother-in-law, a resident of a similar retirement enterprise elsewhere in The Valley of the Sun (as the Chamber of Commerce has it). The recipient, it seems, derives much pleasure from these handouts, as we learn when he frequently joins us for Sunday dinner.

  There is one source of support and inspiration, however--and clearly the most important--that I've saved to the last: my own devoted family. I'm fortunate in the extreme to be able to enjoy the love and support of three splendid children: a daughter and son-in law, Julia and Guy Welbon), and two sons: Llewellyn and Peter, and a grandson, Chris Welbon. Always supportive and helpful, this support and concern were never more valuable than after the death (rather suddenly and prematurely, in 1988, of cancer) of my wife, their mother. Though we were then living in South Florida, while they were scattered in Philadelphia, New York, and Arizona, their support was constant and invaluable. This has continued unabated, and represents an essential contribution to my happy state of mind.

  My joy and pride in their successes is boundless, and while we are still relatively scattered (though I am now, in Tempe, only a few blocks from Peter), our communication and support are constant. All excellent musicians (which is, of course, most gratifying to me) they seek every opportunity to help by participating in performances of my works despite geographical obstacles. For example, Peter is not only the tenor soloist in the forthcoming performance of The Song of Solomon, but also the president of Cantemus, the chamber choir organizing the concert. By chance, daughter Julia's five-day visit here (while on her way to an academic meeting in San Diego) coincides with this performance, so she will also take part in it, to my joy. The children's help, of course, is not limited to music; it manifests itself in countless other ways, to my great benefit, and I'm very much aware of my great good fortune in this respect.

  On the purely physical plane, the medications I take on a regular basis are: Timoptic and Alphagan (keeping in check the glaucoma from which I would otherwise suffer); HTZ to control essential hypertension; Hytrin to control BPA; and Vancenase for minimizing post-nasal drip. These are, apparently, fairly routine maintenance medications, and must, I'm sure, be given due credit. But the rewarding and stimulating nature of my ability to continue actively my lifelong association with music, allied to the joy I derive from my family and my surroundings, cannot be ignored when considering my current state of joy in being alive.

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