You're Never Too Old To Begin To Swing

Members of the University of Dayton New Horizons Band rehearse.

hide captionMembers of the University of Dayton New Horizons Band rehearse.

Courtesy of the University of Dayton

The New Horizons International Music Association is a nonprofit group that helps people over 50 learn to play an instrument. The group has been around for two decades, but it's seen a big increase in participation recently — there are now more than 7,000 members.

In a church basement, a rehearsal for the Beginners Swing Band is just getting started. Most of the musicians here are in their 60s and 70s. You've got four saxophonists, two trumpeters, a trombonist, a baritone player, a pianist and a guy on drums. A lot of them are brand-spanking new to their instruments.

Pat Conlon plays the big baritone sax in the group. He hasn't played music since he was a young man.

"When you're playing music, nothing else is in your head," Conlon says. "It's like a big tranquilizer for a lot of us — just plain fun."

He could use some fun. Right now, Conlon says he has money problems.

"Well, I'm like most folks; I got great big hits in my IRA accounts pushing us up against the wall," Conlon says. "We're very unhappy campers financially now, but this is away from all that."

Nancy Summers-Meeusen directs the West Michigan New Horizons Music Ensembles, and the swing band is a part of that group. Meeusen says she has seen people gravitate to music in spite of some tough situations.

Music certainly makes Eilene Riggs happy. Riggs played trombone for a short time in high school, but stopped after that. Still, whenever she'd hear live music, it'd stop her in her tracks.

"Oh, when I'd see a band, I'd say, 'We gotta stop and listen to this band,' " Riggs says. "If there was a parade, I had to be there to listen to it. Because that was just the drum beat made my heart race. I just loved the music. I'd hear the trombones and think, 'Oh, boy, I want to do that again. I want to do that so bad.' "

So Riggs bought a trombone at a garage sale, and now she plays in the Saline New Horizons band. Last year, Riggs went to band camp for adults at Interlochen, near Traverse City. She says the experience was the high point of her life.

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