Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

Arts/Entertainment

June 19, 2014

Wailing at any age

Harmonica lessons a surprise hit for Center at Punchard

Dave Cook has been a volunteer at The Center at Punchard when it was still called the Andover Senior Center. This year, he wanted to make the experience more personal.

Cook plays the harmonica, and when he first pitched the idea of teaching a harmonica class, program coordinator Karen Payne-Taylor was skeptical. She wasn’t sure the idea would be appealing, so the center limited the course to three weeks.

To her surprise, the interest blew her away. The budding blues musicians are so enthused by Cook’s introduction that the center is now planning to expand the program in the fall.

“We didn’t know what to expect because we’d never offered harmonica lessons before, but we had a great turnout,” Payne-Taylor said. “I’ve had a few people come up to me and say they would really like to do it and asking when it will be offered again.”

Last Friday, six students came to class ready to play. They were there for a variety of reasons.

Karen Tobin, 71, said she read an article about harmonica playing strengthening the vocal folds. When the body ages, muscles relax, and the weakening of the muscles in the throat can cause sleep apnea, she said.

“I’m here building up my muscle. It’s like exercising, and it’s fun,” she said.

Deborah Hartman of Andover has been involved with music since she was a little girl. She takes advantage of all the musical programming offered by The Center at Punchard, including a tambourine band and chorus.

“It’s a wonderful high you get from making music,” she said.

Director of Elder Services Kathy Urquhart said that renaming the center and expanding the programs offered is part of a push to accommodate Andover’s large population of senior citizens and their wide variety of interests.

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