On Oct. 24, three members of the orchestra component of the Catawba Valley New Horizons Music program packed up their instruments after performing at Kingston Residence of Hickory and headed for Panera Bread where they and I talked about the joys of reconnecting with old friends. Not the sort with legs and arms, but the kind with strings and bows.

Karen Sain, Barbara Mahnke and Jane Hitchcock couldn’t be more excited about having invited the art of making music back into their lives at ages many folks wrongly deem too old to learn — or relearn — complex skills. The three are members of Catawba Valley New Horizons Music’s orchestra directed by Diana Stone. New Horizons also includes a band led by Len Allman and the Zephyr Woodwind Ensemble conducted by Julie Luppino.

Jane is a violinist who began playing in the fourth grade and continued into high school where she lent her talent to her school’s symphony. After that, she stopped, picking up her instrument only once years later to play during a church service. When Jane decided a few years ago to pull the bow over the strings again, she was nervous, but, “It just came back,” she said.

Barbara, a cellist, began on the violin when she was in the first grade, switching to cello in high school. She put the instrument away at the end of her junior year. Barbara said her biggest fear “was drawing the bow across the strings for the first time after not playing for 35 years.” As soon as she did it, though, she experienced the same unexpected ease as Jane had. “It’s so much fun to play [now],” said Barbara. “My bucket list was to make a quilt and get my cello back out, and now I’ve done both.”

Karen’s story doesn’t include a childhood experience with a stringed instrument. “I started five years ago,” she said, explaining that as a little girl, she’d wanted to play the violin. There was no opportunity for her to take violin lessons, so Karen studied piano. In the back of her mind, however, a desire to become a violinist lingered. “I kept saying I was going to learn,” Karen explained. “As age 60 approached, I decided I’d better get started.”

Around four years ago, Karen began taking classes through the Suzuki School of the Arts in Hickory and continues the sessions today. Additionally, she receives private tutoring. With a laugh, Karen justified all the training by saying, “I’m running out of time. I have to accelerate it.” She guessed that maybe by age 90 she’d be as good as her teacher.

Barbara joked that at the rate Karen was going, she’d be applying to Juilliard before long.

I wouldn’t be surprised at anything Karen accomplishes now that she’s tasted the sweetness of doing something she’s always wanted to do. The realization of a long-held dream is an invigorating experience.

All three women love their instruments, the orchestra, and their leader. Said Karen about Diana, “She gives of herself over and beyond the call of duty. So enthusiastic and encouraging. She loves to teach.”

Barbara pointed out that Diana, who plays viola in the Western Piedmont Symphony and viola and violin in the Celtic group Stones Throw, is just as patient with newbies as she is with folks who have musical experience. “I think she likes the idea of adults starting or bringing [their instruments] back out again,” Barbara suggested.

Plus, Diana’s fun. Working on Van Morrison’s “Moondance,” for instance, the orchestra got the green light to be “cool” when Diana started moving around, encouraging the group to loosen up and not be “stuffy violin players,” said Barbara.

The women said the group, which currently consists of people ages fifty-something to eighty-something, has a varied musical background including some who’d never played any sort of instrument before joining the orchestra. Karen, Barbara, and Jane talked about one member in particular, a man who’s learning to read music for the first time while simultaneously studying the violin.

The three hope more people will join the orchestra. If they have no musical experience, Diana and the rest of the orchestra will help them. If they played stringed instruments a long time ago, but haven’t touched them in years, again, Diana and fellow members will serve as teachers and cheerleaders.

What about people who are interested but have no instruments? The women said this situation shouldn’t stop anyone. They can rent instruments until they decide whether or not orchestra membership is for them. After that, should they become hooked on it — and Karen, Barbara, and Jane are betting they will — they can choose to buy instruments.

The trio enjoys making music so much that they’re willing to make it wherever and whenever they can. Of course, they never miss practice, which takes place at the SALT Block in Hickory, and they jump at any chance to perform for an audience. Some of the places at which the orchestra has performed are Brookdale Hickory Northeast, the lobbies of Catawba Valley Medical Center and Frye Regional Medical Center, and Conover Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

See the group for yourself when the orchestra performs its Friends and Family Christmas Concert at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 19 at the SALT Block (243 Third Ave. NE, Hickory). You might just feel encouraged to reconnect with one of your old friends — or make a new one.

The cost to be an orchestra member of Catawba Valley New Horizons Music is $160 per 16-week semester. For more information about the orchestra or one of its sister New Horizons musical groups, contact the following people:

  • Diana Stone (orchestra) — 704-325-0566 or dbstone@charter.net
  • Len Allman (band) — 828-449-7442
  • Julie Luppino (Zephyr Woodwind Ensemble) — 252-289-3289

Share story ideas with Mary at marycanrobert@charter.net.

Get today’s top stories right in your inbox. Sign up for our daily newsletter.

Load comments