Managing a group of about 30 older adults armed with musical instruments is a far cry from the days of doing the same with middle school students, according to St. Louis OASIS Band Director, Mike Hoyer.
“They (his current band) listen more … but not always,” Hoyer laughs.
From members as young as those just in their 50s, to one of the oldest members in his 90s, Hoyer reins in the group for rehearsal every Monday in the basement of a local church. One of the biggest challenges he says, is choosing music that everyone likes.
Since 2003, Hoyer has managed to meet that challenge with choices of songs including big band, show tunes, classical, marches and folk music. And he provides a patient and enjoyable environment that keeps members coming back.
“They want to be here,” says member Mary Lou Richardson, who plays French horn. “Members want to practice for Mike,” she says, “he points out where we need to work, but we don’t feel browbeaten. And no one wants to miss band.”
Not an easily accomplished task considering Hoyer’s past as a middle school teacher. “I had to get used to not being a teacher,” he says. “Working with older adults, you’re more of a facilitator.”
The band is made up of members who either once played when they were in school, or came out of a beginner OASIS class on learning to play a musical instrument. Members include a husband and wife, who also help with arranging music, and a father and son who play.
The group practices throughout the year in preparation for two concerts - one in June and another right before the holiday season. There are also break-out groups from the band, a jazz ensemble, woodwind ensemble and swing ensemble that perform.
Success of the band as well as the social camaraderie of the group, according to Richardson, is largely due to Hoyer’s patience during rehearsals and a comfortable, non-threatening setting. “He stops when there’s a need for help … as much as is needed,” she says.
Hoyer encourages members to practice on their own, and they do. But there’s never a requirement to turn in practice logs the way students in school do. “I’ve never felt like I was ‘lord of the band,’” he says.
Together, Hoyer and his melodious mates are having fun creating music, entertaining their audiences and enjoying each other’s company in the process. “And that’s gotta be good for all of us,” he says.
As of this writing, the band was still in search of a tuba player.