Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Now You Tell Me!

Turns out I'm an opsimath and I know that courtesy of Ann Althouse:
"A person who begins to learn or study late in life" — OED. 
1808   Gentleman’s Mag. June 480/2   From the dissipation and idleness of his earlier years, Mr. Fox in Greek and Roman Literature was necessarily an Opsimath....
1968   T. M. Disch Camp Concentration (1969) i. 58   ‘Opsi?’ I asked Mordecai. ‘Short for opsimath—one who begins to learn late in life. We're all opsimaths here.’
1992   W. F. Buckley WindFall xvii. 268   They took me thirty years to learn, opsimath that I am in so many matters....
This is a word I learned only because it came up in a NYT acrostic — "Late learner, like Grandma Moses." I searched the entire archive of the NYT and found not a single appearance of this word. Surely, it's a bit useful.
Because I was born into a very humble Canadian prairie family, I really had no opportunity to be a child prodigy, so I have to be more productive on the other end of life. What, you think Mozart would have started composing at age five if he had not had Leopold Mozart, a well-known violinist as father? And if he had not had the opportunity to tour the great capitols of Europe and perform before the nobility and royalty? And if his father had not taken him to Italy to study when he was a teenager? Believe me, if Mozart had been born into my family, he would not be a household name today. Or so I suspect.

My mother was also a violinist, or as she preferred, "fiddler", but where I grew up I was far indeed from any potential opportunities for study or exposure. If we had not moved close to a university in my mid-teens I would likely still be living in northern British Columbia either playing in a country band or working in a bank. Yep.

But instead I'm an opsimath, meaning not so much that I begin to learn late in life, but that the process of learning, at which I started relatively late, is one that I take up with renewed interest at my advanced age. Actually, the urge to learn and study and put it into practice has come in successive waves in my life.

  • In my late teens I became very interested in ukiyo-e, the 17th and 18th century Japanese art form
  • Also around this time I discovered classical music and began doing a lot of reading and listening--this impelled me to go to university
  • Alongside my musical studies at university I began to do some serious reading: Dante, Divina Commedia; Copleston, History of Philosophy, Shakespeare, Toynbee, Study of History; Spengler, Decline of the West, etc.
  • After quite a few years as a classical guitar soloist, which was more practical than intellectual, I returned to university as a graduate doctoral student in musicology where I did a lot of seminars on DuFay, Shostakovich, opera and comedy, theme types, fugue, experimental music, 20th century theory and analysis and so on
  • In recent years I have studied statistics, technical analysis of stocks, and the Canadian Securities Course
  • Most recently I have gone back to music history and done serious surveys of orchestral music (which involved listening to all the symphonies of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Dvorak, Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Pettersson and others), piano music, chamber music and now, opera
The practical purpose of the last is because I am more and more interested in composition.

So there you go. I suspect the very first step is getting rid of your television.


Let's end with an excerpt from Falstaff by Verdi, which he completed when he was nearly eighty years old. This is just the finale with a nice fugue:


Will Wilkin said...

I haven't had a television in many years. I always find them shocking and disturbing when I visit a home or reception are where a television is "on." I will definitely never own one again.

Bryan Townsend said...

I never owned a TV before I was forty. And I got rid of it when I was around fifty.

Will Wilkin said...

I picked up the violin a little less than 2 years ago, at age 49. That probably makes me an opsimath. And someday I hope to be good enough to take my fiddle playing from the back porch to the front porch.

Bryan Townsend said...

Congratulations and keep at it!