On an 80-degree October afternoon, it was beginning to sound a lot like Christmas at the Charlottesville Senior Center. “Angels We Have Heard on High” flowed into “O Come All Ye Faithful,” followed by “Jingle Bells” and “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” as the Second Wind Band rehearsed for its December 7 holiday concert.
Greg Vaughn, the band’s conductor, is decades younger than many of his musicians, but that didn’t stop him from scolding his elders: “You guys played this much better last week,” he said. “Today we’re all over the place. Let’s see if we can get to measure 18, getting it right.”
Eventually, the band does just that. “Next week we’ll continue to try to clean some of these things up,” a much happier Vaughn announced as another two-hour Tuesday practice session drew to a close. “We only have a few more rehearsals,” he added, “so try not to miss any of them.”
As 60-, 70-, 80- and even 90-some-year-old musicians cleaned and put away their clarinets, trumpets, trombones, flutes and saxophones, Liz Allan, a clarinetist who’s been with the Second Wind Band almost since its inception, explained that some of the folks in the room also play in a smaller swing band called The Flashbacks. And for those interested in learning an instrument—or returning to one they played many years ago—there’s the First Wind Band. All three bands will perform at Sunday’s 3pm concert at the Senior Center.
“The band experience here is a very special one,” said Allan. “It has allowed the members to share their love of music and to participate in the fun of performing together.” The group is one of only two Virginia-based bands that are part of New Horizons Music, a project developed by the Eastman School of Music’s Dr. Roy Ernst to promote lifelong learning through music.
Warren Shaw began playing the trumpet at age 10, and he continued until he graduated from college, which is when he put his horn away—for 45 years. But after he retired, he “had more time,” and picked up the instrument again. “I’m never gonna be as good as I used to be,” he said with a smile. “But I don’t have to be.”
Frank Boone nodded in agreement. “My trombone sat in the case for 43 years,” he said. Boone pulled it out again last summer and “found out that I could still make it work like it used to. I started [playing] with the First Wind Band, which led to Second Wind, which led to The Flashbacks.”
Howard Lowenstein said he’s a better saxophone player now then when he was younger “because I practice a lot more. An hour-plus every day.”
“It’s a matter of trying to get them to remember what they knew when they were younger,” said Vaughn. “Plus they want to be here, and attitude makes a big difference; they want to learn and have fun and play good music.”
While a positive attitude and a willingness to practice come easily to band members, there are other challenges: “These are wind instruments,” one musician explained, “and at our age, our wind is not as good as it was in college.” Nor is their eyesight, they admit. And one of the biggest differences between the adolescents Vaughn has conducted and members of the Second Wind Band is that “the middle school kids wouldn’t listen, and these guys can’t hear me,” he said with a laugh.
Jokes aside, Paul Richards, a trumpet player and composer who will conduct a march on Sunday that he wrote for the Second Wind’s 20th anniversary, said the band is about more than music. “It’s social; you get to meet so many people, which is satisfying,” he said. “And when you play with different people they know different things, and everyone’s willing to share and learn from each other.”