The Sound of Music Doesn't Fade

Adult Music Workshop students (from left) Rich Wall, Stein Roaldset, Rich Centola, Tim Tobin, and Paul Garrity play a gig at the Griswold Inn at the conclusion of their adult guitar workshop offered at the Charles Music School.
Adult Music Workshop students (from left) Rich Wall, Stein Roaldset, Rich Centola, Tim Tobin, and Paul Garrity play a gig at the Griswold Inn at the conclusion of their adult guitar workshop offered at the Charles Music School. Photo courtesy of Charles Domler

So you wanted to play the drums but your parents insisted on flute lessons-or maybe you saw yourself on guitar as the fifth Beatle but instead had to practice piano every day. However long ago those dreams, there is still time to fulfill enduring musical ambitions.

Recent concerts by two local musical groups for adult beginners have once again proved that it is never too late to learn. The Adult Music Workshop, a program at Charles Music School in Centerbrook, gave a graduation concert after eight weeks of instructional sessions at the Griswold Inn. The New Horizons Band of the Community Music School, also in Centerbrook, played its concert at Essex Meadows.

Charles Domler, the new owner of Charles Music School (formerly known as Fisher Music School) says the idea for an adult performance group focusing on beginners came from one of his students, Rich Wall, an adjunct professor at Mitchell College. Wall wanted not simply to learn guitar, but to learn how to play with other people. He asked Domler if he could rent a room and find others to jam with him. Domler, intrigued by the idea of a group of beginning guitarists making music together, instead set up an instructional program.

"It's like rock camp for adults," he explained.

A bit of knowledge of the guitar is necessary-"Just enough to be dangerous," Domler said.

All the players had to have one thing in common, however: none had ever played with a group in front of an audience before. But play they did at the Griswold, a set of 10 songs, including standards from Jimmy Buffet's "Margaritaville" and the Grateful Dead's "Fire on the Mountain" to more contemporary numbers like Howie Day's "Collide."

Playing before an audience, Wall admitted had its challenges, but also its rewards.

"It's a bit frightening, but it's a ball," he said.

In addition to Wall, the group included Stein Roaldset on acoustic guitar, Rich Centola on electric guitar, Paul Garrity on bass, and Tim Tobin on drums. Tobin, an internist better known locally as Dr. Tim, said he played low brass instruments with the Old Lyme Town Band, and after sitting in when that band's drummer left, decided to take some percussion lessons himself. Centola, an engineer by profession, described his prior guitar experience as "on and off, but mostly off."

Bass player Garrity, said he discovered the group when his son Aidan came to take a guitar lesson.

In addition to playing, the members of the band also sing, with various degrees of enthusiasm.

"I did it once; never again," Garrity said.

Still, he had an enthusiastic supporter in seven year-old Aidan, who came with Garrity's wife Karena.

"I think he's very good," Aidan said, adding his favorite song was Tom Petty's "Free Fallin.'"

The New Horizons Band, now in its third season at the Community Music School, is part of a national program for adults with no musical experience and for those who were once active in school music programs, but have been inactive for many years.

Saxophone player Roger LeCompte said he played some accordion as a child, but had never picked up a band instrument until he joined New Horizons. Now he is a member not only of New Horizons, but also of the Community Music School's more advanced Performing Ensemble, which also played in the recent concert at Essex Meadows. And LeCompte is not the only member of his immediate family in the group. He regularly comes to rehearsals with his dog Graca, who was wagging her tail in time to the music at a recent rehearsal.

Tony Darrano, a retired math teacher from Valley Regional High School, is a longtime fife player with the Sailing Masters of 1812 in Essex. Still, he had something else in mind when he came to New Horizons. He wanted to play the trumpet, but when he tried the instrument, the results were not encouraging.

"I couldn't get a sound out of it," he said.

Then someone suggested he try the baritone horn. It was love at first note.

"I picked it up and that was it," he recalled.

Performance, he admitted, still makes him a little anxious, but it's all part of the experience.

"It's good to get a little nervous," he said.

Robert Johnson, a trombonist, said he had played as a youngster and joined enthusiastically when he heard about New Horizons band.

"I'm improving," he said.

Janice Atkeson, who played clarinet in high school, but has switched to saxophone, said it was the challenge of doing something new that excited her.

New Horizons Band Director Patricia Hurley said the adult players were among the most enthusiastic musicians she had ever taught. Unlike younger students, who often resist practicing, she said she had to warn adult band members not to practice too much.

"They are totally inspiring; I get so much pleasure out of this," she said.

At the recent concert, the band played its way through a selection of music from Bach chorales to Broadway show tunes.

According to Hurley, in the band's three years of existence, only one person has left the group-and that was for financial reasons. She added, however, that the Community Music School has both scholarships and discounts for senior citizens.

On a recent morning, clarinetist Anne Easton, an Essex resident, said she had gotten up at six in the morning in Pennsylvania to be sure to get to band on time.

"And I'm here early," she pointed out.

Her good friend Rhoda Bannon drives from West Hartford twice a week to play the drums with the group.

Bannon said she played percussion in junior high school, but had not done so again until last year.

"When I was 14 I played all the percussion instruments in the band and in the orchestra," she said. "Then I didn't do it again until I was 77."

Seated behind her percussion set, she had her sneaker off on the foot she used to push down the pedal that hit the bass drum.

"My foot doesn't get so tired this way," she explained.

"Really wack it, Rhoda," Hurley said about an upcoming solo.

There was no chance Bannon would miss her moment.

"I'm having a blast," she said.

Patricia Hurley conducts the New Horizons Band, which features musicians who have never previously played or are returning after an extended hiatus. Photo courtesy of Patricia Hurley
Patricia Hurley conducts the New Horizons Band, which features musicians who have never previously played or are returning after an extended hiatus. Photo courtesy of Patricia Hurley
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