TOPSHAM, Maine — Music filled the Orion Performing Arts Center as the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra prepped for two concerts, just over a week away.
Most of the musicians likely began playing when they were children, and either kept at it over the years or came back to their instruments as adults.
Then there is Sally Gunderson.
Sally said she wanted to play the flute as a young girl but never got the chance.
“My mom looked at me when I was four or five years old and [I] said I wanted to play the flute,” Gundersen recalled. Now a grandmother herself, she recalled the reaction to that flute request many years ago.
“She said, 'Your brother just quit the piano, you can play the piano.' I wasn’t impressed.”
But the girl didn’t drop the dream. Gundersen said she learned to play the pennywhistle and the recorder as a young mother. Then, in her mid-20s, she finally decided to ask her friend Linda Brunner for lessons.
Brunner is an accomplished flute player herself, and taught flute, mostly to young people.
Brunner responded by going home, without explanation, and returning with a flute for Sally to try.
“She said 'Here is where you put your fingers, play with it four or five days... if you get noise out of it, let me know.'"
Sally said she got the notes and called, and lessons began.
“I thought she’s really nice and everything, but I didn’t think she would do anything with it, particularly,” Brunner recalled with a laugh.
That turned out to be an underestimation of the persistence of her new pupil.
Gunderson worked hard at learning how to both read the music and play the flute.
“I just wanted to play, and so I just started playing and took it from there,” Sally said.
“She did it!” Brunner said with a smile and obvious pride in her friend and former pupil.
Sally admitted it wasn’t easy. After a couple of years of lessons, Linda got Sally playing with local bands in Hallowell and Bath, to help her gain confidence and ability in counting notes and staying on tempo — a step Sally admits was intimidating.
“I remember I played with a woman in the Wiscasset town band whose husband was a pretty good French horn player. He looked at us after the first concert and said 'You guys have a lot of nerve to get up and do that.' And I don’t think that was a compliment,” Sally said with a laugh.
After playing with multiple bands, Sally took the big step at Linda’s suggestion and tried out for the Midcoast Symphony. She eventually joined the orchestra and has been playing their concerts, along with Linda, for more than 25 years.
“Sometimes it still terrifies me but I love it,” she explained, then smiled.
And Sally isn’t the only member of the orchestra to find their passion for playing music at a similar age. Retired attorney Robert Frank said he was over 30 when he began learning the violin and actually helped start the Midcoast Symphony 30 years ago.
“It's part of who I am now,” Frank said. “I just can’t imagine my life if I were not playing regularly in some kind of musical setting.”
Frank said he definitely felt at a disadvantage learning to play as an adult, while children seemed to learn more quickly and easily.
“I’m still on the steep portion of my learning curve,” he said.
Asked about the difficulty of learning both music and the instrument as an adult, Linda said it’s a matter of persistence.
“If you want it, it isn’t that much of a challenge. You just do it.”
Sally sees it a little differently, though with the same result.
“Sometimes it seems darn near impossible still,” Sally explained.
“I don’t know, I just kept playing and playing.”