By Alandra Johnson / The Bulletin

From third grade through his senior year, Roscoe Creed played the clarinet and he loved it. But after he finished school, he stopped playing and eventually sold his instrument to buy a windshield for his motorcycle. So for 68 years, Creed didn’t play a note on the clarinet and that part of his life seemed over. “I never thought about it at all.”

All of that changed last summer when the Sisters resident met a few members of the Cascade Horizon Band, based in Bend. The local group, made up of individuals age 50 and older who play band standards together, has been around for about seven years. They meet one to two times a week and hold nearly a dozen concerts a year. The local band is one of more than 160 New Horizon bands in the country, all of which are designed to help adults play music together.

When Creed, 79, heard about the band, he decided to give it a try. He loved the idea of picking up the clarinet again. He bought an instrument and discovered his “fingers just fell into place” despite more than half a century of absence. Now Creed is more enthusiastic than ever. He even started taking private lessons to improve. Some of the pieces are too difficult for him to master quite yet and he finds himself playing “air clarinet” for stretches. But he says he looks forward to every practice and every concert.

“I love the sound it makes. I just enjoy playing,” said Creed.

Creed’s experience mirrors that of many fellow band members. Many played through high school or college and now, in retirement, have decided to pick up their instruments of choice thanks to the band.

Since it began about seven years ago, Cascade Horizon Band has improved steadily, according to band director Sue Steiger. In the beginning the band played primarily middle school level music. Now the band performs high school and some college level pieces. And this weekend, they will showcase their hard work on the band’s biggest stage to date. The band will perform at the Oregon Music Educators Convention in Eugene. The band had to apply to perform at the convention, and it is the first senior band to receive an invitation. During the convention, the band will also participate in a workshop conducted by Roy Ernst, the founder of the New Horizon Band concept.

The beginning

Steiger, 53, helped form the band back in 2003. She was approached by members from the national New Horizon Band group and encouraged to form a group in Bend. Steiger, also a band teacher at High Desert Middle School, liked the idea. “I thought it would be something cool to do.”

The first band meeting started with 12 people. The band grew through word-of-mouth and recruitment. Now it boasts 74 people. There are husbands and wives and pairs of brothers and sisters.

While most members had not played in 30, 40, 50 or more years, they are typically motivated to play and to practice. “The group is open to anyone that’s willing to try and work,” said Steiger.

The band members tend to joke around and enjoy a jovial atmosphere. Some of the members of the Cascade Horizon Band volunteer with Steiger’s middle-school-age musicians, forming a sort of grandma- or grandpa-like relationship.

Jay Dee Conrad, 71, is the president of the band and has been a member since 2003. After he retired and moved to Bend, Conrad set a goal. He wanted to get his trumpet lip back in shape. Joining the band was a great way for him to become more involved in music again. “If you’re going to retire, you’ve got to retire to something,” said Conrad. He believes this band has helped him fulfill his dreams and hopes.

Steiger sees it this way: “Music, it touches your soul.”

Experiences, the future

In addition to enjoying the music, Creed also enjoys the camaraderie. “It’s kind of a family feeling. There are no prima donnas in this bunch.” He says people are not critical of one another.

Tom Worcester, 80, appreciates being able to have this band and the ability to create music together as he grows older. He gave his French horn to his son, who passed it on to Worcester’s granddaughter. When he got it back to play in the band, the instrument had “many years of junior high school abuse.” The valves were stuck; it hadn’t been touched in 25 years. The fingering came back to him quickly, but he’s still working to get the breathing right.

John Aklonis, 69, has been playing clarinet again for two years and finds it immensely rewarding, having been away from the instrument for 44 years. He is in three bands now and takes private lessons. One of his favorite aspects of playing in the band is watching it improve over time.

“It’s fantastically rewarding watching them get better. Sue has been pushing us,” said Aklonis. “The band sounds pretty damn good.”

Looking forward, Conrad would like to see the band carry out a tour of Eastern Oregon. He also thinks that at some point the band may need to split into two groups due to its ever-increasing size. Exactly how and when that would take place is unclear.

The band is always accepting new members (a bassoon player is a particular need). Players younger than 50 can join if they play a speciality instrument or are needed for a particular purpose. Members pay $45 a quarter to participate.

All of the band’s concerts are free, although donations are accepted. The band’s next local concert is at Sisters High School at 2 p.m. Jan. 31.

Contact: 541-382-2712 or cascadehorizonband@yahoo.com.

Alandra Johnson can be reached at 541-617-7860 or at ajohnson@bendbulletin.com.

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