Keep learning to make the most of life, Jane Kwiatkowski, March 19, 2009

– Sharon Gerring loved to sing, yet whenever she sang along to her favorite Beatles songs at home, her children would tell her to stop—which is precisely why her first recital will stay in her memory forever.

“There’s a protocol,” Gerring said. “You bow to the audience. You bow to the pianist. My children were there sitting in the front row, looking at me with awe. Everyone was smiling and clapping. It was such a delightful moment, one I thought would never happen.”

Gerring will tell you that singing the aria— “Belle Nuit” from the “Tales of Hoffman” by Jacques Offenbach—was a highpoint in her life. It culminated hours and hours of practice. It brought her great joy.

So why don’t you do the same? Remember that guitar you played? Dust it off.

Get your fingers around a paint brush, glue gun, digital camera or Mandarin Chinese lesson book. Lessons learned later in life have staying power.

“When you nurture your creative thinking, you are developing coping skills,” said Gerard Puccio, chair and professor at Buffalo State College International Center for Studies in Creativity. “It helps you deal more effectively and more productively. It builds resiliency.

“When you have been following the same routine and engaging in the same activities, in some ways you become a little unconscious,” added Puccio. “By trying something new—it could be learning a language or a musical instrument—you become more aware of yourself.”

Expand your mind with the following options.

Your inner artist

“Concept to Creation” combines seasoned visual artists with rookies and gives each an opportunity to try something new. They met regularly at the Burchfield Penney Art Center on the campus of Buffalo State College to challenge themselves artistically (www.yournewburchfieldpenney.com).

“People were coming in an hour early, they get so into it,” said Bruce Adams, an artist and art teacher. “I had one student [who] had never painted anything and art teachers who don’t find time to do their own painting.

“On a personal level, it’s always helpful to feel you challenged yourself in some way and you were successful,” Adams said. “They came with a spirit and attitude of wanting to accomplish something, and they walked away feeling good about that.”

Natural crafts

At the Roycroft Copper Shop Gallery, artisans from across the country teach ageless crafts, including coppersmithing, metal crafting and jewelry-making (www.roycroftcampuscorporation.com), according to Clare Root, associate director of Roycroft Campus Corporation.

“Socially, mastering a new skill can be a wonderful way to meet new people and just to get exposed to others who may be interested in similar intellectual areas,” said Anne Gilles-Thomas, a clinical psychologist who counsels students at Daemon College. “When people do this, it also makes them a good role model for others, just to see that somebody can expand and broaden themselves.”

Add some music

If you think Sudoku puzzles hold the key to eternal acuity, it may be time to put down the pencil and pick up a musical instrument.

“Music works, too,” said Linda Mabry, executive director of the Community Music School (www.communitymusicbuffalo.org). “It causes you to think in new ways. It builds connections in the brain, but there’s also a physical thing that happens to people depending on their experience— new coordination skills with any instrument. A pianist’s fingers will change a bit.”

The voice lessons that Gerring has taken for months leave her exhilarated. She feels a sense of accomplishment, and a desire to learn more.

“With music, there’s always another song to learn,” Gerring said. “Stretch your own self and create new sounds. If there’s something you’ve always wanted to do in the back of your mind, do it. If not now, when?”

The Woodshed Music School in Clarence Center is attended by students ages 6 to 75. Owners Suzanne and Ned Holderby see adults as good students ( www.woodshedmusicschool.com).

“For one thing, a 45-year-old won’t have a parent with them,” said Ned Holderby. “He will have an accumulation of life experiences. An adult is usually coming with a specific purpose. Oftentimes, it’s a release from daily concern and stress.”

“In these hard times, there is no limit to activities that will allow you to focus on something else,” Holderby said. “In music, you have a complete discovery process.”

For rookies not used to playing their instrument with others, the Holderbys hold a monthly jam session called Stumblegrass.

“It’s for people nervous playing with others, a monthly jam session in bluegrass. We stumble along together. It’s free, too.”

Get cooking

The cooking classes offered at the Culinary Arts Center (www.culinaryartscenter.org) in Depew offer students a different kitchen experience. Classes including Southwestern Grill, Comfort Food With a Twist and a new Saturday class that pairs parent and child for a day over the stove have become popular diversions.

“Many people use cooking as a form of creativity and relaxation,” said owner Wayne Watson. “We all work in obscure jobs. If you’re an attorney, accountant, banker and you do your job really well, the results are intangible. What you create in the kitchen is very sensory.”

Expand your horizons

Shake up your world with these class offerings, available through various Continuing Education programs in the area:

‚An Introduction to Texas Hold’em (ages 21 & over): Six-hour course that includes: starting hands, best hands, betting, bluffing and the importance of position. Students will get a chance to play and be critiqued. This course is strictly for fun. Gambling is not encouraged, but learning good play and proper etiquette is. From 7 to 9 p.m. Mondays for three weeks beginning March 30. Fee: $60. Held at the Community Education Center, 777 Maryvale Drive (www.maryvale.wnyric.org).

Woodworking: For beginning and experienced woodworkers, learn to use tools and machines. Design, construct, assemble and finish a project of your choice. From 7 to 10 p.m. Mondays for seven weeks beginning March 30. No class April 13. Fee: $83; senior discount $63. Maryvale High School, 1050 Maryvale Drive (www.maryvale.wnyric.org).

Soy Candles: Learn the differences between paraffin and soy, then make a fresh spring handmade, hand-poured soy candle. From 7 to 9 p.m. April 20 at Sweet Home High School, 1641 Long St., Amherst. $10 (250-1400).

Backpacking: Learn how to pack efficiently and comfortably with the correct equipment and clothes. We will discuss different types of backpacks and what your best choice is for your planned hike as well as packing essentials you probably never thought of! From 7 to 9 p.m. for two sessions, April 20 and 27. Cost: $51. Heim Middle School, 175 Heim Road (www.williamsvillek12.org).

Selling on e-Bay Workshop: Bring one item to sell. Instructors will takedigital images of the item while students prepare the descriptive listing. Instructors will aid in account creation, price researching, description, category, shipping preferences. From 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. March 30; overflow date April 27. Cost: $25/Seniors $15. Hamburg Middle School, 360 Division St., Hamburg (www.hamburgschools.org).