By Carla Caldwell
Trombonist Ron Gilmore first heard the New Horizons Band of Atlanta in 1999 at the Sandy Springs Festival. He declared them “just awful.”
In almost the same breath, he said, “I’m going to join that group.”
When his wife asked why, he said he knew they could get better.
Gilmore joined the band and today the Sandy Springs retiree, who once played trombone on scholarship at Duquesne University in Pennsylvania and with the 83rd Army Band in Straubing, Germany, still heads each week to practice.
The 30-or-so-members of the band gather Wednesdays at the Dorothy Benson Center in Sandy Springs to play and prepare for performances at retirement centers, churches and festivals. The group has performances scheduled for 2 p.m. March 7 at Sandy Springs Christian Church and 4 p.m. March 10 at Lenbrook Retirement Community in Brookhaven, according to its Web site.
Members range in age from 50 to 88. Many live in Sandy Springs, but others come from as far away as Peachtree City, south of Atlanta.
The band is an affiliate of New Horizons International Music Association, which is made up of about 150 bands, orchestras and choruses serving people age 50 and older in the United States, Canada, Ireland and Australia. The organization stresses inclusiveness. Among its mottos is the phrase “your best is good enough.”A handful of bands operate in the Atlanta area.
Most members played in high school or college, said Dave Mattice, of Kennesaw, who plays baritone saxophone. “They put down their horn, got married and raised a family and then, 40 years later, picked it up again,” said Mattice, a retired U.S. Navy flight instructor who teaches part-time for Delta Airlines. “I wasn’t good in high school, but I’ve improved.”
Sandy Springs dues are $15 a month to cover sheet music and to pay a director. The group’s director of six years, Roy Fox, a trumpet player who has enjoyed success as a jazz musician, played in the U.S. Army Band for 20 years. He teaches band in DeKalb County middle schools.
Fox is a serious musician and a cut-up. He demands perfection, but is quick to offer assistance – and a light comedic moment – when someone can’t quite hit a note or find the stamina that once came easily.
The band’s musical selections range from Big Band music to marches. They’ve played songs from the Broadway musical “Chicago” and the Blues Brothers movie. Concerts are tailored to audiences.
Bill Snellings of Sandy Springs said the love of music and a desire to master a challenge draws members. He joined five years ago, encouraged by his father, John Snellings, 86, of Brookhaven, who plays clarinet in the band and tenor saxophone with jazz groups.
The younger Snellings, president of Snellings Walters Insurance Agency and at 59 among the youngest members of the band, quit playing the trumpet in 1970 upon graduating from Samford University in Alabama. He married, had children and the trumpet remained stashed away. He brought the instrument out after hearing a high school brass group play at a Rotary Club meeting.
“As I got better, I began to enjoy it again. When my dad heard about it, he encouraged me to join the band.”
Now Bill Snellings is encouraging people to participate and invites interested musicians to drop by for practice.
During a recent practice, the once-critical Gilmore was none too pleased with his own playing. “Just awful,” he said to no one in particular.
The New Horizons Band practices Wednesdays from 3:45 to 5:45 at the Dorothy Benson Center in Sandy Springs. For information, call membership director Dave Mattice at 770-421-8384, or go to www.atlantanewhorizonsband.org.