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The drum kit was just sitting there gathering dust, a memento of her son's long since abandoned lessons. Miriam Queensen had turned 50; her grown children had moved out, and she suddenly realized "how much, and for how long, I had involved my life around my kids."

She'd been reading a book about creativity that encouraged trying new things. So she decided to take a couple of drum lessons.

"On my second lesson, my instructor said, 'I think you could be a pretty solid player,' " said the Golden Valley writer and writing teacher, now 54. "That's as much encouragement as I needed."

She heard about some musicians who gathered for regular jam sessions and needed drummers. The first couple of times she went, she sat and watched, intimidated by their proficiency. But "they were really laid-back and really cool," and finally she gathered the courage to sit behind the drums. The other musicians were friendly and encouraging, and she grew to love the sessions.

In 2014, Queensen started attending Rock Camp for Dads, a program that also welcomes non-dads and seemed tailored for people like her — amateur musicians (mostly middle-aged) who wanted to sharpen their skills with weekly classes playing classic rock, rockabilly, new wave and more contemporary rock. Again, everyone was nice and encouraging; the instructors were skilled working musicians, and the bands were always in need of drummers.

"I never, never thought I'd play in front of other human beings," she said.

But she found herself joining bands that formed from the camps, playing mostly afternoon and early evening gigs at popular venues such as the Park Tavern in St. Louis Park and Famous Dave's and Bunkers in Minneapolis. Although the audiences were mainly friends and family, "it was kind of terrifying" — especially when she was asked to sing, too.

But she enjoyed the performances, the camaraderie and the change in her outlook. She feels "younger … full of energy and life." She has lots of new friends; visiting Bunkers now is like walking into Cheers. "Everybody knows my name. I'm finally one of the popular kids."

At a Christmas party, she met a man — another drummer — and got to talking and then to seeing him regularly. Now "he's moving in," she said. "So it has been a life-changing experience in many ways."

Katy Read