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Beginners mix with accomplished musicians in new orchestra

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image Jimmy Moreland, an accomplished musician, helps mentor those who play string instruments. Penny Fletcher Photo

Boyce and Marceil Sweat never expected to join an orchestra while at a car wash.

By PENNY FLETCHER

Boyce and Marceil Sweat never expected to join an orchestra while at a car wash.  But while they were waiting for their car, they were overheard discussing an article they’d recently read about the spread of bands for people over 50.

That led to a conversation with a friendly stranger, and the rest came naturally.

“I was remembering how I enjoyed playing drums in high school and college,” Boyce Sweat said.

“And I was talking about the singing groups I used to belong to,” Marceil added.

Little did they know they were standing next to E. Douglas Deck of Riverview, founder, president, director and conductor of the New Directions Orchestra, Inc.

Deck had begun holding informational meetings in January, and on Feb. 2, founded the orchestra and filed for 501(c)(3) nonprofit tax status, which has since been granted.

The orchestra began as a part of the New Horizons International Music Association, which can be read about at www.newhorizonsmusic.org, but Deck said he wanted to get his own 501(c)(3) so the local orchestra could eventually apply for grants and perform for charity event fundraisers (which it has already begun to do). He also envisions having ensembles, where smaller groups specialize in various styles of music including jazz, blues, worship, Dixieland and others.

Another reason for making the group its own boss was so that its bylaws could be changed, opening up the group to anyone over 21 instead of just over 50. 

Seniors, however, currently make up the majority of the group, which numbers about 25.

Practices are more like social gatherings and are set up to have breaks and snacks and lots of camaraderie.

“I’ve been with the group since it started,” said Geraldine Breen of Wimauma. “I really enjoy meeting new friends and doing things together as a group.”

Breen, who has taken on the job of orchestra secretary, played violin with the North Shore Symphony in Long Island, N.Y. before moving to Florida. “My daughter also plays. I was a ‘violin mom’ like some mothers are soccer moms,” she said.  

Breen said Deck treats the group to a special event every three months. One time he paid for a catered lunch; another month they went to the Cracker Barrel.

“We celebrate our progress together. Remember, some have never even played any instrument before. This is a place where we can mentor and help each other. And Doug makes it fun for us. He asks about us and cares how we feel.”

April Bradway also enjoys the sessions for many reasons. Right now though, she is recovering from arm and shoulder problems and has not been able to play for several weeks.

“I hope I can get back to it soon,” she said in a telephone interview Sept. 6. “I had always wanted to fiddle. My husband bought me a violin in a pawnshop for Christmas seven years ago.”

She said she knew she had to learn to play the violin before she could fiddle.

“I learned about it from a poster at a local recreation center. Because the informational meeting was being held at the music shop, we figured it was a sales pitch. But when I got there, the man who spoke to us about the association really got my interest. The music shop was sponsoring us, but it wasn’t a sales pitch.”

Bradway is just now learning to read music. “It’s more than just learning to read music, or play an instrument. This orchestra makes it nice to belong to a group. It’s a wonderful experience,” she said.

Deck holds one practice a week during the day and the other in the evening so everyone who wants to may attend.

“We always say, ‘just come out and listen’ first. Don’t make yourself make a commitment to join. Just drop by and see what we have to offer.”

About two-thirds of the people who attend have never played an instrument before, yet Deck creates learning materials with diagrams for each instrument and gives lots of one-on-one attention. Recently Jimmy Moreland, an accomplished musician who used to play with the South Shore Symphony, joined the group and gives special help to people learning string instruments.

The orchestra has joined the Riverview and Sun City Center chambers of commerce and has already played for residents of  Savannah Court and Feather Rock Village in Brandon. It is seeking opportunities to play for luncheons and senior living facilities.
“We are also available for charity fundraisers,” Deck said.

The orchestra members plan to host an information booth at Brandon’s Lifestyles Family Fitness center’s “Life After 50 FunFest” at 623 Oakfield Drive in Brandon Sept. 21 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. where players will give out brochures and flyers telling about the orchestra.

Deck has several degrees in both business and music, including a Master’s in Music from Wright State in Ohio and he won awards teaching Music Theory 101 to youth orchestras at the Ohio Conservatory of Music in Akron.

But until his automobile accident in 2006, he had never started or run an orchestra.

“I was in a terrible accident where my (Ford) F-150 was T-boned and I actually flew out of my vehicle into the truck (that hit him) and broke ribs, lacerated my liver and lung and had so many other injuries doctors told me I was never to pick up even as much as 25 pounds again,” Deck said. “I almost died. For months I was depressed. My business required lots of hard physical work I could no longer do. Then a year ago last August I saw a little ad about New Horizons and started attending their concerts in Tampa. I didn’t want to live the rest of my life depressed. Finally, I thought, ‘why, with my music degrees I could do this!’ and I used it as a way to work out of my depression.”

“It’s never too late for anyone to learn music,” he said. “Since we opened up to people  over 21, anyone can learn to play an instrument that has one or wants to rent one. He doesn’t recommend people buying an instrument until they have tried to play it.

“Our sponsor, The Music Showcase (on Oakfield Drive in Brandon) gives discounts to our members. They have been a wonderful source of help to us.”

It was at the Music Showcase that Deck held the informational meetings.

Even though the local orchestra is a separate 501(c)(3) it is “partners with” and is linked to the national New Horizons website (by clicking Florida groups), and will soon have its own site as well. That site is currently under construction at www.ndomusic.org. Both sites will link to each other and to the business sponsor as well. 

Deck can be reached at (813) 671-4278 or ed996d@gmail.com. The best way, however, to find out about the orchestra is just to show up at a practice session located on the second floor of the First Presbyterian Church, 121 Carver Ave., Brandon. That is a left turn off S.R. 60 going East one block east of Parsons Avenue. They are there Tuesdays from 7 to 9 p.m. and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to noon.

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