The New Horizons International Music Association is a non-profit group that helps people over 50 learn how to play an instrument. They've been around for two decades, but they've had a big increase in participation recently. There are now more than 7,000 members. Michigan Radio's Kyle Norris spent time with several senior musicians in Grand Rapids.

KYLE NORRIS: We are in a church basement. And 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. And a lot of them are brand spanking new to their instruments.

Unidentified Man: One, two, three, four.

(Soundbite of music)

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

Mr. PAT CONLON: It is totally distracting. No matter what's going on in your life, when you're playing music, nothing else is in your head. It's like a big tranquilizer for a lot of us, just plain fun.

NORRIS: And he could use some fun. Right now Conlon has some money problems.

Mr. CONLON: Well, I'm like most folks. You know, I got great big hits in my IRA accounts, pushing us right up against the wall. So we're very unhappy campers financially now, but this is away from all that.

Ms. NANCY SUMMERS-MEEUSEN (West Michigan New Horizons Music Ensembles): Are you going to sit there and just covet your little piece of the pie or are you going to make yourself happy?

NORRIS: That's Nancy Summers-Meeusen. She directs the West Michigan New Horizons Music Ensembles. And swing band is part of that group. Summers-Meeusen says she's seen people gravitate to music despite some tough situations.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: Music certainly makes Eilene Riggs happy. She played trombone for a short time in high school and loved it, but didn't play after that. Still, whenever she'd hear music, it'd stop her in her tracks.

Ms. EILENE RIGGS: Oh, when I'd see a band I'd - got to stop, I got to listen to this band. If there was a parade, I had to be there to listen to it, because just the drum beat just made my heart race. I just loved the music. And I'd hear the trombones, I say(ph), oh boy, I want to do that again. I want to do that so bad.

NORRIS: 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 magical. She says it was the high point of her life.

For NPR News, I'm Kyle Norris.

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