The BYU New Horizons Orchestra had been practicing an arrangement from the opera "Carmen," for the better part of 30 minutes at their Thursday practice.
When the roughly 40-person orchestra reached the final notes of the arrangement, conductor Gordon Childs was all smiles.
“Bravo! Bravo!” Childs said. “Magnificent!”
Childs, who will be 89 next month, coached the orchestra comprised of people over age 40 through the song, measure by measure, with light encouragement and instruction. By the final run through, each bow was moving in time and on the proper notes.
“It’s so rewarding to work with these people, hear them grow and have a concert where they play beautifully and are so proud of themselves,” Childs said.
The BYU New Horizons Orchestra was started in 2003 by Andrew Dabczynski as an extension of a bands and orchestras for older residents, which he had started at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York with Roy Ernst.
Childs has been involved since the orchestra first started at Brigham Young University. After 42 years of teaching music, Childs began conducting orchestras. It wasn’t until after he had stepped back from conducting that Dabczynski asked if he wanted to get involved.
“It sounded exciting and I’d just retired for a second time, so I said why not?” he said.
Dabczynski, who retired from teaching music education at BYU recently, said he decided to start the BYU New Horizons Orchestra after he saw what it could bring to the community.
“It is an opportunity for people who somehow missed the fifth-grade window of opportunity to study an instrument that now have the time, interest and resources to pursue it,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for people to continue to learn now that school is over for them.”
The group comes from all over the county to practice twice a week at an LDS Church building for two hours. They accept anyone over 40 years old of any skill level.
“People come in and make the kind of progress they want to make,” Dabczynski said.
After months of practice, the orchestra gets four or five opportunities to perform publicly and showcase the skills they have learned.
Dabczynski said the orchestra stands out because it accepts all skill levels and encourages everyone to learn and grow despite their backgrounds.
“I love the people, these are vibrant and very interested and interesting people that have had rich lives,” he said. “They bring that richness to the ensemble and share it with others.”
The members of the orchestra agree. While cellist Pam Wiley said she really loves playing with the orchestra, but the group has also helped each other through difficult moments.
“It’s a great support group,” she said. “We’ve all suffered through anything — deaths, fires, husbands that have died — together.”
As she was talking, another cellist Lillian Howell chimed in mentioning how they were there for her when her house burned and how other members have lost loved ones.
“You could forget any problem you have for two hours while you're here,” Wiley said.
Nancy Athay said she has been with the orchestra for many years because she loves the challenge of it.
“It’s a great experience,” Athay said. “For folks at our age, can you imagine anything more fun?”
The BYU New Horizons Orchestra also serves as a place to help BYU music education students learn how to instruct.
Allison Taylor started out as a student assisting with the program, but has since become an integral part in conducting and running the orchestra since she graduated.
“I’d come to learn how to teach in this kind of setting and I have fallen in love with the group,” she said.
She said being involved with the orchestra has really impacted her, not only by helping her learn how to instruct but also more about life.
“It’s interesting to be part of a group where I have this specialized experience in music, but overall they have so much more experience than me,” Taylor said. “They teach me quite a bit about life.”