Friday, November 18, 2011

Life-long learning II: A Master's at 59

This summer, when I turned 59, I began a Master’s Degree.

I had first thought of it more than 15 years ago: in 1994, when I got back to Toronto from the Phantom of the Opera tour, I looked at a Master’s in Performance under Lois Marshall, an artist whom I adored. Something held me back. Perhaps it was a fear of studying under my own professional colleagues, perhaps it was a fear of the state of my transcripts; at any rate, I never filled out the forms.

By 2001, I was again thinking of post graduate study. I had in the intervening years turned from performing to teaching, having had some success coaching advanced singers in Europe. This time, I thought of a Master’s in Education. I got as far as downloading the application and writing away for my transcripts. When my transcripts arrived, I tried to convert the letter grades into the standard 4 point system. I was overcome with shame. Confronting that trail of successes, failures and incompletes was too much for me. I never even finished computing my grade point average.

As a more or less ‘gifted’ child, I had graduated from college at the age of 19, and left behind me an academic record rife with inconsistency. For every “A” in literature or music, there was a “C” in quantum mechanics, or a B- in biology. I took far more courses than I needed, in every conceivable field, but I often didn’t finish them.

In 2010, after the opera workshop I taught at a prominent Toronto music school was canceled, I thought once again of going back to school. Somehow, I knew that I could not face approaching 60 without beginning something. Because I didn’t want to leave home to study, I looked for a plausible distance master’s. I found a program that looked really interesting; the Master’s in Psychology for Performers at the University of Sheffield in England. Working with singers does bring you to the heart of psychological issues, and I thought this two year program might be just right for me.

Once again I began the hell of applying. To my amazement, when I finally confronted the shame of my messy transcript, I had just over a 3.0 average for my BA and a 3.4 for the first year of a graduate diploma I did in 1981. I filled out a ream of forms, and sent them in. I was accepted to the program.

I began the degree with a residency in Sheffield in August, and I loved it. At first I was overcome with anxiety. I thought I had been out of school for too long to succeed academically, that the subject would be horribly dry and I would die of boredom, that poor eyesight would not allow me read the assigned reading. I was all wrong. The teachers have been wonderful, the assignments interesting, the readings fascinating. Whether this degree leads to me getting a good university teaching post or not hardly seems to matter. I feel welcomed into an entirely new community of scholars, and I feel like I belong there.

To any of you out there who also feel like it’s too late to start, I say “Go ahead. Start your Master’s at age 59. Maybe you’ll even have a PhD by the time you retire!”
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