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Back in the Saddle

At the age of ten, Dorothy Rickmeyer took up the alto saxophone and continued to play for years. Living in West Virginia at the time, she was proud to march in the sax section of the Ceredo-Kenova High School band during parades. But, like many, she stopped playing after graduation.

Jobs and families take up so much time that, unless you're a professional musician, it's virtually impossible to stay with that trumpet, violin, flute, or drum set. But eventually, the kids fly the coop and retirement looms. Realizing she no longer had any excuse, Rickmeyer decided to return to the sax.

"I had not played for 40 years," she explains. "I started playing again about 6 years ago, when I was introduced to a musical group, and they handed me a saxophone at a rehearsal."

Rickmeyer, age 69, no longer plays with the group, but she recently had another stroke of luck. She was getting her sax repaired at Mars -- The Musician's Planet in Fort Lauderdale when she heard about the music store's New Horizons program, which will enable musicians over age 50 to meet twice a week for twelve weeks to prepare for a full concert.

The program doesn't begin until April, but men and women ages 55 to 85 have already attended initial registration meetings. Like Rickmeyer, many of them are former musicians who want to get back into performing. Some have never played an instrument but would like to give it a shot.

The first hour of each two-hour session will be devoted to small-group rehearsal for like instruments. "They'll all become a part of the program, even beginners," explains Randall DeWitt, Mars' director of education. "Those with experience will be mentors." An ensemble practice conducted by retired high school band director Al Fetterman of Miami will take up the second hour.

Whatever they're looking for musically, players get something more from the program, which is based on the model created in 1991 by Roy Ernst, a professor of music at Rochester University's Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. "Senior adults enjoy music, and there is a special kind of joy involved in playing music as a group," Ernst says. "And they make new friends, and there are events to look forward to."

Music is also good for one's health, he claims. Intellectual stimulation keeps the brain in working order, and the use of muscles -- whether it's blowing into a flute or pounding on a drum -- keeps physical dexterity intact. "Music provides all these things," Ernst says.

Rickmeyer couldn't agree more. "This seems like an opportune time to further my education in music," she says. "And we will be socializing, as well."

-- John Ferri

The New Horizons program for musicians age 50 and older will begin in early April at Mars -- The Musician's Planet, 5300 Powerline Rd., Fort Lauderdale. An informational meeting will take place in mid-March. Cost for the twelve-week program is $159. Call 954-489-1175.

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John Ferri

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