As a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at an exclusive private hospital, Brian Cohen has treated some of the world’s most renowned musicians.
But when his hospital – King Edward VII in Marylebone, London – was taken over by the NHS in March, he was left temporarily out of a job and decided to try his hand at music lessons himself.
“I thought to myself, I need to do something aside from reading and going through yet another Netflix box set,” he explained.
“Something intellectually stimulating, a bit of a challenge, something achievable and a skill which I could enjoy going forward when lockdown finishes.”
Mr Cohen, a former head of the orthopaedics department at University College Hospital in London, said he had always been interested in learning the piano.
“So literally the day before shops shut up, I went out and bought myself an electric piano and a set of headphones – I live in a flat so it also had to be an instrument that didn’t annoy the neighbours,” he said.
Mr Cohen, who specialises in shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand surgery, has treated a number of famous musicians in his time but had always felt too busy to pursue his own interest in learning an instrument
“Of course in a busy professional life it is always those very selfish pleasures that get put to one side,” he said.
“To enjoy an instrument you have to be playing it regularly, to be able to spend time with it. It is rare in the adult professional career where someone says ‘here is three months but you have to stay at home’.”
Mr Cohen is one of thousands of adults who took up an instrument during lockdown.
The UK's biggest online retailer of instruments and sound equipment reported a huge rise in sales on the same time last year during the April to June period.
Gear4music saw the value of UK sales rise by 80 per cent from April to June compared with the same period last year to £21.2 million.
Among the big sellers were electric and acoustic guitar starter bundles as well as digital pianos, the company’s chief executive said.
While children’s music lessons were often the first thing to go for cash-strapped families at the start of the pandemic, there was a surge of interest in learning instruments from adults, according to Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM).
“Covid-19 does change the way you see the world quite a lot and things you might have been putting off; you might think ‘I have been meaning to learn to play the violin, this is my moment’," she said.
“Especially if you are well paid and you are on furlough or working from home – there is only so much TV you can watch. I suspect as we go into the winter months and you can’t go out as much, I think we will see more of this”.
Jesse Bildner, a drum teacher and founder or the music tutoring company Rythmico, said that during lockdown he had a new wave of interest from adults, all of whom are parents of children he already taught.
“They wanted to learn something new over lockdown while they were working from home,” he said. “They enjoyed it so much that now they are continuing with the lessons.”
Mr Cohen is continuing with his weekly piano lessons on zoom even though he is now back at work full-time at the King Edward VII hospital.
But he said he had no intention of taking any grades, adding: “The great joy of taking up an instrument in later life is that you don’t feel the obligation to take exams.
“You want to learn a new skill and hear yourself play. And at some point if you play well enough it may give some pleasure to someone else.”
King Edward VII, a hospital that is favoured by the royal family and has been used in recent years by The Queen, Prince Philip and The Duchess of Cambridge, was taken over by the NHS in late March.
Mr Cohen said that he did not feel he was equipped or appropriately qualified to volunteer to work on a coronavirus ward during lockdown.
“I am an orthopaedic surgeon, I have no training in respiratory medicine or looking after sick patients,” he said.
“I am 61 years old so probably don’t fit the profile that they wanted [for volunteers] and simply don’t have the skill set. I am very good at treating broken wrists and shoulders but put me in front of a ventilator and I break down in tears.”