Larry LaRue: Seasoned band plays for pleasure

Tacoma’s New Horizons unites older players in pursuit of music, harmony and fun

Staff writerMarch 17, 2014 

If you see an 81-year-old former nun on trumpet, a 94-year-old retired dentist playing baritone horn and a group that only accepts gigs with close parking, it’s almost certainly the New Horizons Band and Orchestra.

“We have a lot of members who can’t walk far carrying their instruments,” conductor Victor Jowders said. “If there’s not good parking close to the venue, we don’t accept the job.”

New Horizons is picky about its concerts, and fine with that.

The band’s musicians must be older than 50, and virtually anyone with an instrument can come and join the group, which asks $250 a year in dues. For those who forget to pay, Jowders sends his “collector” — that former nun.

“People see me coming and see dollar signs,” said Jean Mandy. “Everyone pays up.”

Everyone also has a good time.

The band practices two hours a week, every Thursday morning at the Tacoma STAR Community Center.

Some musicians, such as the 92-year-old first trumpet, Juan Martinez Delcarmen, have had classical training.

Some, like Mandy, played one or two instruments all their lives and changed to help the band fill a need.

“I played violin and accordion in bands all my life,” Mandy said. “Someone willed me a trumpet, and I brought it to my first practice. Victor gave me a book on playing trumpet, and that’s how I learned to play it.”

There’s a New Horizons Band in Tacoma and another in Olympia, and Jowders conducts both. Musicians love being able to play with the group so much, there are some amazing commutes.

Horn player Joel Talerco, for instance. Every week he drives over from Ellensburg.

“I try to balance what we play between simple and technical stuff,” Jowders said. “We probably play music that requires middle junior high through middle high school abilities. If you hit a hard part, just stop and come back in when it gets easier.”

A former music teacher at Lincoln High and other schools, Jowders was a drummer who picked up the trombone in sixth grade and was a piano major in college. Now 77, he loves conducting — and one of his french horn players is his wife, Julia.

New Horizons is a national group. The Tacoma branch began in 1996, when Jowders put a small ad in the newspaper looking for musicians.

“I’ve been playing since high school, back in the ’30s” said Charles Caley, the retired dentist. “Originally, I played the trumpet. Playing gives you the feeling of belonging, of being needed. There’s a pleasure in producing music.”

Over the years, New Horizons has shown that playing music at any age is not only possible, it’s a blast.

“The emphasis is on fun,” Jowders said. “We try to hit as many right notes as possible, enjoy the process and one another.”

At a recent practice, he had the 35 members in attendance play “Roosters Lay Eggs in Kansas,” a lively piece. At the end, he suggested all his trumpet players take their mouthpieces off the horns and play chicken-like squawks through them.

It worked, and there was a lot of laughter.

Jowders’ approach to music obviously leaves an impression. Two band members on hand last week — Kathleen Farrington, 62, and Pat Locke, 61 — were once his high school students. They joined New Horizons when they realized Jowders was conducting.

“He taught me how to play music,” said Farrington, now a mother of six.

Experience, which comes with age, has made different musicians out of many in the group.

“These people have lived, and that can produce more emotional music,” Jowders said. “Of course, some of them don’t hear well, and occasionally that’s for the best.”

The orchestra plays six to eight performances a year, and it’s more than good parking that limits them.

“We’re too big to play most care centers,” Mandy said. “You need room for an orchestra, and enough room so we don’t blow the audience out the doors.”

New musicians are always welcome. At the moment, they could really use an oboe.

Just watch out for the former nun.

How to join the band

Show up for practice at the Metro Parks Tacoma STAR Center, 3873 S. 66th St., on Thursdays at 10 a.m. And bring your instrument.

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