New Horizons Big Band of Tualatin breaks age barriers and revives a seldom-played genre
Taking after his father, Bob Lenneville began learning the drums at age 5. By age 14, hed switched to the trumpet because his drum habit had grown too expensive. And by age 23, he was majoring in music at the University of Oregon.
This all seems like a pretty average story, except that when Lenneville was given his first trumpet, the year was 1936.
To be a drummer, youve got so much equipment you have to buy. And in those days, the 1930s, it was the depression and all that stuff. (My dad) said, No thats too much money, so were gonna teach you how to play the trumpet instead, said Lenneville. It was a challenge, I think, probably more than anything. I never got very good at it, but it was fun.
So, Lenneville played throughout high school in Portland and for the United States Army in World War II. He played for the University of Oregon before being sent to the Korean War, where he had to put down his instrument for a weapon. He returned three years later to teach music and become a band director, and in 1960, Lenneville led Roseburg High School to the Rose Parade, where it was the honored band. Less than a month shy of his 92nd birthday, hes still playing the trumpet, this time
with New Horizons Big Band of Tualatin.
The main thing is the challenge involved in doing it right. And thats all there is to it, is doing it right, he said. It take a lifetime 1936 I dont know how many years thats been, but its a long time.
Well, its 77 years of routine trumpet playing (Its a part of the day, like brushing your teeth in the morning), and Lenneville still has a band to play with thanks to New Horizon Tualatin's formation a year ago.
The band started with Suzanne Short, who noticed big bands becoming more obscure over the years and wanted to do her part before they disappeared forever. The Tigard resident met with her friend Brad Davis, a professional musician out of Vancouver, Wash., and the two hatched an idea. They would form a band for musicians who didnt have any interest in making it professionally, or who maybe hadnt played for decades. Short would act as band manager, while Davis would direct.
After sending out a press release and putting ads in the newspaper calling for musicians, a year later the lineup has pretty much settled down; between 20 and 25 musicians play with New Horizons, depending on the day.
Another of these members is Bill Tyson, 73, who plays the tenor saxophone. A year ago, he picked the instrument up and started playing again, but the last time hed touched it was in 1959.
I didnt remember anything its easy to play, but difficult to master. Anybody could just make a noise out of it, he said. Its great for keeping me sharp. I mean, learning all this, all the music, how to play it, everything about it, boy, its just incredible for your mind. Theres probably nothing thats better than that to really get you going again.
But, not everyone in the band is there to revisit a forgotten art. Some, such as 24-year-old Branden Pursinger, have been maintaining their musical abilities all along. Pursinger began playing the trumpet in fourth grade because it has three buttons and looked the easiest. He continued playing through college at Lewis and Clark, and is usually playing in an orchestra in addition to New Horizons. When he saw an ad in the newspaper for a lead trumpet player a couple months ago, he figured he might as well join.
I dont know if Im any good, but I like playing so I stuck with it... Ill hopefully stick with these guys until they tell me to get lost, Pursinger said. Were mostly just a bunch of community people who like playing jazz music. So we just get together and play.
Pursinger often plays second chair or backs up Davis when he gets tired. Though Davis is the bands director, he also took over as lead trumpeter when their original player left for a different gig. This means that not only does he lead the band musically, he also has to worry about making sure everyone is keeping time, staying in tune and playing the right style. On top of that, during performances such as ArtSplash in Tualatin, he also has to be thinking about whether the audience is positively reacting to the music.
It distracts from what your main job is, which is playing the lead part. So its hard. And anybody, I dont care what instrument it is, if theyre the leader of a band, it takes away from their playing. You can pull it off, but it is distracting, he said. (But) it helps your playing, and it also helps, I think, your appreciation of what a band should be. What its supposed to be.
Although the band relies on the varied musical talents of a couple dozen people for its big, full sound, it only practices once a week and has a director who conducts while simultaneously playing the trumpet, you wouldnt recognize the struggles while listening to New Horizons. Its clear the members have put effort not only into playing, but into making the best music they can.
I just think big bands are worth saving, said Short. I love this music, and its gonna die if we dont perpetuate it.
While the bandmates might have joined for different reasons and span an age range of about 70 years, they find common ground in making near-forgotten music together and escaping from whatever trials plague their regular lives.
The great thing about this is you can do it forever, its just how much you want to put into it, said 61-year-old trumpeter Steve Cook, whos been playing for 50 years. Some guys were athletes, some guys were musicians. Im still making music. The athletes, well...
He trailed off. Chances are the athletes arent playing anymore. But the musicians? Theyre still working on their chops.