That just made it easier for him to find and approach fellow musicians and in just a short time, his first Hong Kong band was born.
Bernstein does not regard age as a barrier in music. “When you were a kid, you learn the notes and music. Now I can play with more feelings,” he says. “The good thing about music is that there is no limit. You can be young or old. In basketball, you can’t compete when you get old. But music is a great equaliser. It doesn’t matter if you are 50.”
That does not mean people do not have certain expectations about musicians. Bernstein recalls one time he had finished playing in a club, he ran into a group of young women from the audience in the elevator. “[They] didn’t see me and they said the band is really good but they are so old,” he says, giggling at the memory.
Bernstein says clients and colleagues are surprised when they see him play. He thinks it is a bonus that people can see him in a more all-round way through his music. “Through music one could get to know the players’ characters, tastes and attitudes.”
There is another advantage to being an older musician. As a father of three, Bernstein has to juggle work, family and music and he is clear about his priorities. “If I see my kids, I don’t play,” he says. But his daughters are old enough to come to his concerts, so, the two parts of life can often be combined.
Unlike their younger counterparts, who might have to give up playing music to work, many older musicians have relatively stable finances and families and grown-up children.
But that does not mean it is always plain sailing. David Kwan Chi-keng, the 63-year-old owner of a high-end audio equipment shop, fought against heart disease for half of his life and had to undergo regular kidney dialysis in recent years.
None of this was a barrier to Kwan. He continued to play guitar in a band, just as he had done at school. Kwan gathered together friends who were in their late 40s or early 50s and held practice sessions every Sunday night.
In 2006, Kwan received a heart transplant and formed a gospel music band called “Heart Openers”.
It was a turning point in Kwan’s musical life. He started playing for people in churches. However, the church he attended was a conservative one which disliked Kwan’s music. One time when they played during an anniversary event, staff warned them they would turn off their amps unless they kept the volume down.
Kwan did not give up. He and his band toured churches in the Mainland and religious schools in Hong Kong. As time went by, his band gained popularity and the media reported Kwan’s story and members of the clergy started to accept his music. His persistence paid off. Kwan even skipped work to play with his band which performed in 18 venues last year.
As Kwan struggled to gain recognition, his family was always behind him. His son gave up his job as a pilot to help Kwan manage the company. His mother kept asking when he would perform for her.