It has been said that playing an instrument is a full-body workout for your brain by engaging the visual, auditory and motor cortices. The scientific fact is validated when you look at Maxine Madden Spencer.
The 90-year-old violinist has been playing the violin for more than eight decades. Today, she can be found giving lessons to two children at The Terraces at San Joaquin Gardens — her home of five years.
Her journey to learning the power of music started at age 7. She was giving lessons within five years — thanks to the love and support of her mother, Golda Alburty. She used her skills as a seamstress in exchange for an instrument for Madden Spencer.
Born and raised in Pittsburg, Kansas, Madden Spencer earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas. She met her first husband, Harrison Madden, as a student at KU. In 1956, they moved as newlyweds to Fresno. He landed a job at Fresno State; she joined the ranks of the Fresno Philharmonic.
While taking a break from the Fresno Philharmonic, she played the violin for headliner acts at Sahara Tahoe (currently known as Hard Rock Lake Tahoe) near Lake Tahoe in Stateline, Nevada.
The lengthy list of headliner acts include Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Diana Ross, Engelbert Humperdinck, Debbie Reynolds, Tina Turner, Sammy Davis Jr., Jimmy Dean, Donny Osmond and The Jackson 5.
In 1972, Madden Spencer divorced her first husband. Subsequently, Madden Spencer started giving lessons at various campuses in Fresno Unified School District.
In addition, from 1979 to 1980, she performed with the Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera. She also performed in the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music for nearly two decades.
In 1989, fate intervened when Madden Spencer reconnected with Harry Spencer — a former classmate and musician at KU. After 18 years of being single, Madden Spencer married her second husband at age 63. They were married for 14 years before he died in 2003.
Currently, she performs with the Friday Philharmonic (“Friday Phil”) Orchestra and the Tulare County Symphony. She gives lessons to two children who have recitals next month.
Madden Spencer says the most requested piece to perform is Jules Massenet’s “Méditation” from the 1894 French opera, Thaïs. When she isn’t playing the violin, she enjoys walking a 1 1/2 -mile route on the grounds of TSJG. She has four children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Learning how to play an instrument takes commitment, discipline and patience, Madden Spencer says.
“Have confidence in yourself,” she adds. “Keep plugging away. It won’t happen overnight.”