A new book that shows how music not only soothes the savage beast but can add a new dimension to almost anyone’s life, especially people 40 and older, has spotlighted an Ahwatukee business and a local musician.
Calling Ahwatukee “home to a music underground of amateurs who have created a quiet community of song,” Richmond, Virginia, author Gayla Mills’ book, “Making Music for Life: Rediscover Your Musical Passion,” praises Ahwatukee singer-songwriter Cindy Weir and Ahwatukee’s Music Makers Workshop.
“Making Music for Life” looks at hobbyists and aspiring musicians in the second half of life, offering tips on the best ways to practice and jam, enjoy playing with others, get gigs and record deals and bring more music to communities in an effort to show people how music can help them live and age well.
For Weir, an Ahwatukee resident with her husband and two daughters since 2006, music isn’t just a hobby: it’s a large part of her life — though it took her a little while to realize that.
After the New Jersey native got her masters degree at New York University in communications and culture, she worked in public relations and marketing for a few years because “I had an ethical crisis doing that.”
So she went back to school for speech and language pathology and got her master’s in that.
“I’ve been practicing that for 20 years here and it’s been glorious,” said Weir, who lived in Tempe before settling in Ahwatukee.
Yet, as a self-described “life-long learner,” Weir wasn’t about to settle.
“I’ve worked with smaller children in their home setting, which has been fun,” she explained. “But then I thought, ‘I could do more with this somehow. I need to go back to school and learn.’”
And in learning, she reconnected with her childhood love for music.
“I had always loved music and I played music and I learned music when I was a kid, but I thought, ‘What about music? I need to learn it like a language. I really need to understand the grammar of it, the syntax and everything like that.”
So, Weir went back to school, this time the Berklee College of Music in Boston, earning a master certification of music theory, harmony and ear training.
“So, since 2010 I’ve been on that journey, the musical journey, while still practicing speech pathology and raising my kids,” she explained. “And so that’s kind of brought me to where I am.”
“Where” has ended up being many places.
Weir performs in hospitals, nurtures girls through the nonprofit Girls! Rock Phoenix, teaches at Music Makers as well as in her home and pursues songwriting.
At hospitals — primarily the VA and Phoenix Children’s — she plays for patients and families several times a month.
“They love it. You know, it’s just another way of connecting with people and really healing them,” said Weir, who plays guitar, piano, recorder, ukulele, clarinet, violin and bass.
Weir has been involved with Girls! Rock Phoenix since its inception more than four years ago, helping girls develop musical knowledge and ability, connect with peers and mentors, build leadership and communication skills and inspire feminism.
She’s bullish on the group, reflecting how several decades ago, the rock scene was a male-dominated industry.
“As a therapist, I feel like I can be really helpful there,” Weir said. “It’s always such a growth process for the kids and for us, all of the volunteers. They get to play electric guitars and all that good stuff.”
She’s especially proud of the fact that she hears from some of the girls who were in Girls! Rock Phoenix camps several years ago.
“It’s just nice to see them grow and you feel like you just contributed a little bit to their confidence in themselves,” she added.
At Music Makers, 3233 E. Chandler Blvd., Weir works with children as young as 4 and teens primarily — though she also works with adults.
“I love working with little kids. They’re just so full of life, a beautiful energy,” Weir said, recalled how one teen came in “saying it was a rough week and it was only Tuesday.
“I said, ‘Let’s see if we can turn that out around’ and halfway through the class, he was just the happiest camper ever. It just felt good to help his mom out. So again, you know, music: it’s just such a nice connector.”
When she teaches songwriting, Weir works with kids who may approach writing songs like others approach keeping a diary while others have tunes in their head and want to learn how to put them down on paper.
For any of those students, she relies on her Berklee College training.
“I break it down and think about the rhythm, the beat, the tempo and harmonic progression. It depends on what my student’s ability is and then how I want to shape it. And then we think about what do you want to say? So, whether you have lyrics or not, you probably want to express some kind of feeling. And so, we talk about that. We talk about what it would sound like musically, what a melody might sound like and then how lyrics might fit or if we have lyrics before a melody, how those lyrics kind of balance each other rhythmically.”
She explained how one female student “is just so creative musically” and “she’ll sit at the piano and she’ll say, ‘I got this tune in my head’ and she’ll just start playing it and it’s amazing. I have her writing now because she’s so creative and she’s not a lyric person though. For her, it’s more feeling into it musically and giving her an outlet for that creative skillset that she has.
“Then I have another gal who has notebooks and notebooks and notebooks full of journaling and poetry and all of that stuff. And it’s amazing. And then I have another gal who she just interested in chord progressions. She’s totally the harmonic person. I feel like I need to get them all three together because they have different skills.”
Weir, who also performs at folk festivals and other public gatherings, doesn’t know how she came to the attention of Mills, who says Weir “shows by example many of the ways one can be involved in a music community.”
Mills praises Music Makers as an example of a “the direction many music schools are taking toward building community by providing group instruction and events where students can perform.”
Mills said she heard about Weir through Music On Call, the nonprofit that tries to connect musicians with hospitals so they can play for patients.
“She just had a good story; so yeah, she’s pretty fascinating,” said Mills, a college writing professor who learned to play guitar and has been performing with her husband the last 15 years.
Moreover, many musicians in the underground music community of the Phoenix area are over 40 — proof of her belief that one is never too young to learn to play an instrument or sing or both.
“I went back to music in my forties, and in the process, met a lot of musicians in the same situation and there’s just nothing really out there that’s tailored clearly for that demographic,” Mills said.
“And I really wanted to be able to help people who were doing the same thing because there were a lot of them and there’s just not a good single resource for all that. So I’m a writer, so I decided that was a good thing to write about.”
Her book “has hundreds of tips on a whole range of things that they could do in terms of practice, finding other people to play with, finding teachers and resources, choosing an instrument and so on. And then the second half of the book is geared a little bit more towards people who’ve been playing music and are more experienced, but maybe they want to know how to record or how to form a new band at this stage of their life. It’s kind of a different thing than when you’re 20.”