Betty Schroeder plays the fiddle, hammer dulcimer and autoharp but always has wanted to play a wind instrument.
Her wish came true Saturday afternoon when she picked up a clarinet and after a few minutes of instruction, coaxed some notes out of it.
Schroeder is one of eight area residents, all over the age of 50, who enrolled in a new instrumental music program offered by the LSU Performing Arts Academy called the New Horizons Band.
The band is designed to give seniors who always have wanted to play an instrument, but never have had an opportunity to do so, a chance to play one at last. The band also wants to recruit people who have drifted away from instruments they used to play years ago, but now want to resume performing.
“I’ve played folk instruments for years, but I always wanted to play a wind instrument,” Schroeder said as she gingerly picked up the clarinet for the first time. “It feels different than I thought it would.”
After academy instructor and band leader Andrew Gerbitz showed her how to hold the clarinet and blow into it, her comfort level increased and her confidence grew. Soon, notes were coming out and Schroeder was smiling.
“I’m excited now,” Schroeder said. “I can do this — if I can just get the air through it. It’s exciting to be in a band and be in on the ground floor of a new program.”
Gerbitz, who has a doctorate in brass instruments, specializing in the trumpet, said he was also excited with Schroeder’s progress and that of the band as well.
“I’m very happy,” Gerbitz said. “We knew this would be a small group starting out, but we’re looking forward to growing over the next couple of years.”
Joe Lawler, 71, is a lifelong musician who plays keyboards and guitar in his St. Patrick Catholic Church band. He joined the New Horizon Band on Saturday to expand his circle of musical friends, he said.
“This is a good way to socialize and keep our minds going,” Lawler said. “We can teach one another if we already play something.”
John Firestone, at 82, is the eldest band member. He said he is looking forward to picking up the saxophone, an instrument he played in high school and college, but not since 1950.
“I sing in a barbershop quartet already, but when I heard about this, I thought, ‘Why not?’ ” Firestone said. He recently purchased a sax from a daughter who had put it aside.
Gary Penouilh, 58, said he has two daughters, ages 15 and 11, who play the clarinet in their school band and he wants to play one, too.
“I’ve never played any instrument in my life, but I’m excited about this,” Penouilh said. “This is exciting — at my age — to be starting something new.”
The New Horizons Band launch was part of a larger open house event at LSU’s Performing Arts Academy, which offers dozens of youth programs from acting to media to vocal and instrumental music.
The building was crowded and noisy with children trying a wide variety of instruments in the academy’s “Play Room,” where Schroeder also tried her clarinet.
This New Horizons Band is the first for Louisiana but is part of a larger national program of more than 100 other such bands inaugurated in 1991 by Roy Ernst at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., Performing Arts Director Blake Wilson said.
“I’ve been approached by so many adults who’ve told me that they have always wanted to play an instrument, but think that the opportunity has passed them by,” Wilson said. “I think this program is proof that it’s never too late to learn something new.”
New Horizon Band members are scheduled to meet from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. each Thursday in the LSU School of Music Building, Room 118, at the corner of Dalrymple Drive and Infirmary Road.
Band members will receive individual instruction for an hour and then play together for an hour. By Thanksgiving, instructor Gerbitz said, the band should be good enough to perform a concert.
Members are responsible for their own instruments. The cost is $125 plus a $10 registration fee.
For more information, contact Blake Wilson at (225) 578-3230, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.