MUSIC LESSONS: Retirees make up the band in UD program

Love for music can last a lifetime. Just ask the musicians at the University of Dayton New Horizons Music Program. Now up to 120, members meet at Temple Beth Or to brush up on the instruments they put down decades before. Some are picking up instruments for the first time.

New Horizons Music programs were developed specifically for adult learning, says Linda Hartley, director of the Dayton program. As the retired Coordinator of Music Programs at UD, she decided it would be a great opportunity for area adults, especially seniors, as well as good experience for U.D. music education students to work with adults instead of children. “Adults know what they want to learn. And they know how to give feedback.”

So Hartley, with a grant from UD, put an ad in local newspapers in 2000 hoping interested people would just show up. She crossed her fingers. “It was a big risk,” she notes.

But eight people came to the first session ready to learn, including Phil Aaron, now 90 and a retired UD International Studies Professor. He had put down his beloved trumpet in his youth. He decided to pick up a trombone in retirement. And 23 years later, he’s one of three “Notable 90s” musicians in the program’s concert bands.

“It stimulates the brain and keep you on your toes,” he says, adding that learning trombone took time but was very rewarding. “I enjoy the camaraderie, and I enjoy just listening to the music.”

Music fills the temple halls Thursday mornings as eight faculty teachers, music education students, and guest conductors hustle among rehearsals for three concert bands, two jazz bands and several string orchestras, all eager to play and find out more.

“It’s all about learning,” says Anna Fricker, 69, co-chair of Program Promotions. She picked up her daughter’s unused oboe and joined the program in 2016. “We learn to read music, how to breathe, intonation. And the people are wonderful.”

New students who haven’t played before start in the Rising Stars ensemble where instructors sit among the students and help with everything from reading notes to adjusting music stands. As they progress, the newly minted musicians can join the beginner concert or jazz band, says Fricker.

Flutist Donna Stevens, 73, graduated from Rising Stars to concert band. “As an adult, you’re more motivated,” she says. Her sister was already a member and encouraged her. Stevens and husband B.J. Stevens retired and moved to Centerville, closer to the program, and now they both play. “It’s a family affair.”

“I never learned to read music,” says Marc Ashby, a retired physician from Sugarcreek Township. Now 55, he taught himself guitar in college and joined the program in 2021 to play with the jazz band. In 2022, the concert band was short on trumpet players. “I always wanted to play the trumpet.” He took music lessons from a student teacher last summer and started with the beginning concert band in the fall. “I learned to read music. Everyone has been so encouraging.”

Rehearsal friendships spill over into social activities like a monthly “lunch bunch” and spring and fall picnics, Fricker notes. Smaller ensembles or duets form and practice in the summer between program semesters. They perform at churches, parties and venues like St. Leonard Living Community.

“They are very active,” Hartley adds. And very enthusiastic. Even Hartley’s parents were members for 15 years. “We have to keep adding levels.”

Dust off that instrument! Enjoy playing again!

The University of Dayton New Horizons Music Program offers open houses twice a year and encourages interested people to attend program events. New members are always welcome.

The program is tuition based—$90 for each of the Fall and Spring semesters. Currently there are group lessons for flute, oboe, bassoon, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, French horn, trombone, baritone/euphonium, tuba, percussion instruments, violin, viola, cello and string bass.

Questions? Contact Anna Fricker at or at 937-239-7445.

Program musicians come “from up and down I-75,” she says, driving into rehearsals from as far away as Troy, West Chester and Xenia. And though some working people have the flexibility to attend the daytime rehearsals, most of the musicians are senior citizens. “We certainly don’t check IDs, but the average age is about 71.”

Upcoming performances include:

  • New Horizons in Jazz at the Hidden Gems Music Club, 507 Miamisburg Centerville Rd., Centerville, 7 p.m. (Doors open at 6 p.m.) Sunday, April 30, $6
  • Spring Concert featuring the concert bands and string orchestras, 7 p.m. Friday, May 5, Kettering Seventh-Day Adventist Church, 3939 Stonebridge Rd.

Check out events on the New Horizons Group Facebook page for more information.

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