“Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks or bend a knotted oak.” So said English playwright and poet William Congreve a few centuries ago. With all due respect to ol’ Bill, I don’t know how a few verses of “Sweet Betsy from Pike” could bend or unbend a knotted oak, but, still, I see his point. Music can make a difference. Like bringing some sense of normalcy back to our lives after the dark and seemingly forever days of the pandemic.
That brings me to the New Horizons Symphonic Band. After an 18-month hiatus, this group of swinging seniors – ages 50 to 88 years old – under the direction of Dr. Charles R. Jackson is making beautiful music again, beginning with their Big Band concert in the Woodstock Amphitheater this past October. Applause!
Next up on the agenda is their 2021 free Holiday Concert at the Lassiter High School Auditorium on Saturday December 4th from 2 PM to 3 PM, featuring traditional holiday favorites like “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”, “We Need A Little Christmas”, “Sleigh Ride” and “A Chanukah Celebration.”
I caught up with Dr. Jackson enroute to Florida where he is spending Thanksgiving with family. Now a part-time assistant professor of music at Kennesaw State University, he retired from the Cobb County School District after a 34-year teaching career as a director of bands.
I asked him how the group fared during the almost two years of not being together. He told me that members stayed in contact with each other by email and continued to practice their instruments at home. In August they were told by Kennesaw State, which is where they hold their rehearsals every Monday from 11 AM to 1 PM, that it was okay to get back together.
“I was amazed at how good the group sounded at their first rehearsal,” he said. “It was an impressively strong group prior to COVID and they sound like they have come back stronger than ever.”
Dr. Jackson reminded me that some of the band members have been playing their band instruments for a long time – 50, 60 or even 70 years. “Of course, an 18-month shutdown is a relatively short time when compared to playing an instrument for 60 years,” he says. That puts things in perspective.
Not even a pandemic could stifle this intrepid group of Golden Oldies. Since rehearsals began in August, New Horizons has added some ten new members across every section of the band bringing the total membership close to 100 members. But, Dr. Jackson adds, “We always welcome new members on all instruments. Currently, we could use more trumpets and percussionists.”
How do you get new members when you haven’t been able to get together as a group and play? “Our current members are our strongest recruiters,” Dr. Jackson says. “They share stories of their experience in our band with their musical friends and invite them to join us. Some new members were looking forward to joining us for many years but were just waiting until they retired so that their schedule would allow full participation.”
After the Holiday Concert, the New Horizons Band is hoping to begin performing for students in the local public schools and at senior citizen centers once they begin inviting outside guests to perform again. Already on the schedule is an appearance for the Georgia Music Educators Association’s District 12 High School Honor Band students on February 5th at North Cobb High School.
This is what makes musicians special in my book. While they continue to enjoy their lifelong passion for their music, they recognize their obligation to pass that passion along to the next generation.
I saw that up-close-and-personal a few months back when I asked my friend Frank Ryan, a longtime member of the band and tuba player extraordinaire if he knew where I might find a trumpet for great-grandson Cameron Charles Yarbrough, who had just become a member of his middle school honor band. And not just any trumpet, but a B-Flat trumpet. This request from someone who doesn’t know a B-flat trumpet from a B-round one.
A generous soul, Frank Marano, offered up his since he was in the process of moving to Florida. And this was no ordinary instrument. Marano’s father bought for him when he was in the 8th Grade in Belleville, New Jersey. He played it through high school as a member of marching band, orchestra and jazz band and at the U. S. Naval Academy. It was in pristine condition. Yet, he was willing to give it to Cameron. That is what musicians do. Carry it forward.
So while bending a knotted oak may be up for debate, there can be no argument that music enrichens our lives as do those who make that music. And for that, I say, welcome back New Horizons Symphonic Band. We missed you.