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New Directions Orchestra offers song of rejuvenation

The New Directions Orchestra practices every week and welcomes people 50 and older who have never played a musical instrument before but have a desire to do so.

Kathryn Moschella | Special to the Times

The New Directions Orchestra practices every week and welcomes people 50 and older who have never played a musical instrument before but have a desire to do so.

As a wife, mother and long-time nurse, Linda Jordan had led a full life.

Yet, there was one little missing piece that she yearned for since she was in junior high school — playing the clarinet.

When Jordan, 66, retired from nursing three years ago, searching for a purpose after a fulfilling career, she found it in a little-known organization just taking off in Brandon called the New Directions Orchestra.

With the guidance of orchestra founder E. Douglas Deck and husband Dale, who plays the trombone, Jordan's wish come true.

"After I retired, it was difficult for me to adjust because I didn't feel like I was accomplishing anything," Jordan said. "Learning how to play the clarinet again after 30 years has really helped me with my separation from my job. I'm enjoying it and it's challenging me."

Dale, a retired teacher who devoted 21 years to the Hillsborough County Public Schools, also developed a new outlook on life thanks to New Directions. Dale is learning to master the trombone again after he played in a band in high school and in the Navy along with singing in a choir.

"Music is a gift, it's special," he said. "This experience is wonderful. Now, I'm trying to get my wind and lips back in shape after being off for 30 years."

Other orchestra members, 50 and older, share similar stories about the sense of renewal after retirement. For those still working, it's a chance to have some fun, meet friends and sharpen their minds.

A third of the group has never played a musical instrument before and the rest played in bands and orchestras earlier in life while in school, but gave it up to pursue careers, marriage and family.

Now, they're working together as a team to learn or relearn music with the help of mentors, books, practice and community performances.

Thirty-nine SouthShore and Brandon residents have joined the group since it launched in February 2012, and in addition to the orchestra, which has branched out to string, brass and jazz ensembles, a choir has been formed to accompany the musicians at events that want a choral accompaniment with their orchestral music.

First Presbyterian Church in Brandon has graciously allowed them to practice and rehearse every week since Deck, the orchestra's 58-year-old founder and conductor, first put an ad in the newspaper.

Some of the orchestra members, like the Jordans, are playing the same instruments they chose to play early in life. Others, like Anthony Gonzalez, 75, of Riverview, who played his brother's saxophone by ear 50 years ago, chose a different instrument this time.

"I saw the ad that Doug put in the paper about people not needing experience and I said, 'Oh, that's for me,' " Gonzalez said. "Doug suggested a trombone and I've been playing it since last March."

Gonzalez, a retired data communications professional, wanted to play in high school but was denied the opportunity.

"My prayers have been answered, really," Gonzalez said. "Sometimes opportunities come to you years apart. Jump on the wagon when it does, because you don't know how good it is until you try."

The New Directions Orchestra has been a salvation of sorts for Deck, who sustained life-threatening injuries in a 2006 car crash.

"I was sitting depressed with my injuries and trying to cope with survival and the whole aftermath of the accident," Deck said. "I thought, what am I going to do with my life? My mom came to my rescue and mentioned music, and that's when the bell rang in my head."

Deck, who has years of higher musical education, is an expert at fingering and instrumentation. Consequently, he can train practically anyone to play an orchestral instrument. He got the idea for the New Directions Orchestra from a national group he's a member of called New Horizons Music, which encourages senior adults with little or no musical experience to play in an orchestra or band.

Deck has gone to great lengths to develop the orchestra and turn it into a full-fledged professional, nonprofit, tax-exempt organization. Now that he has completed step one and grown the group, he wants to refine the group's skills and abilities, perfect their sound and create new ensembles that can perform for smaller audiences.

So far, the band has played at various locations including Delaney Creek Lodge assisted living facility, in Brandon, the South Florida Baptist Hospital Rehabilitation Center in Plant City and the Greater Brandon Meals on Wheels volunteer luncheon.

"Many of the songs had sentimental memories and also gave us a feeling of pride and patriotism," said Elena LaRussa, kitchen coordinator for Greater Brandon Meals on Wheels. "The audience members were singing to the music and had smiles on their faces, so I know that everyone thoroughly enjoyed the performance."

Next year, Deck intends to raise money for the group by holding fundraisers, asking for donations, and going after grants. The Walmart Foundation has donated $1,000.

"The orchestra has really given me a new lease on life," Deck said after a recent rehearsal. "I now have a goal-oriented life, no depression and less medication. Everyone is looking up to me to lead them and they're following the path of what's going to come."

Kathryn Moschella can be reached at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

The New Directions Orchestra meets and rehearses together, and in ensemble groups, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Mondays at First Presbyterian Church of Brandon, 121 Carver St. The group's choir rehearses Tuesday evenings at the same time. For information, visit www.ndomusic.org.

New Directions Orchestra offers song of rejuvenation 05/04/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 2:46pm]
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