The soaring sounds of a symphony orchestra poured from the doors of Holy Names Music Center on a recent Tuesday morning.
But the musical selections hinted that this symphony was something special.
A stirring Tchaikovsky composition was followed by a whimsical western tune punctuated with the clip clop of percussion hoofbeats. Finally, a sweeping Cole Porter medley reverberated, reminiscent of film scores from Hollywood’s Golden Age.
The Project Joy Symphony Orchestra was rehearsing for their final performance of the season.
Boasting more than 50 members, this full orchestra complete with winds, strings and percussion is conducted by Kevin Heckmatpanah, music director of the Gonzaga Symphony Orchestra and professor of music at Gonzaga University.
“Because we play in many different environments, I try to schedule a little variety – something for everyone,” Heckmatpanah said of the eclectic music selection.
The orchestra is just one of 40 acts featured by Project Joy. Funded in part by the Spokane Parks and Recreation Department, Project Joy offers a wealth of musical talent provided by 220 entertainers age 50 and older. The acts perform at area retirement centers, assisted living facilities and community centers.
“Some of us have been playing together for 40 years,” said symphony orchestra manager Diana Krebs.
Larry Sundholm, 79, plays the French horn.
He said music chose him.
“I was the world’s worst athlete, but I really liked music,” he said.
Sundholm also sings with another Project Joy group, “Grandpa’s Sounds.”
Heckmatpanah believes music is good for more than just the soul.
“Music is a physical, mental, social, mechanical thing,” he said. “Our orchestra members are engaged, alert and enjoying themselves.”
Marge McFaul, 94, certainly is.
“I started playing violin in the fourth grade,” she said.
But music took a backseat when she married and had 10 kids.
“For 45 years, I didn’t play, and then I got into fiddling,” McFaul said.
Now, she often competes in fiddling contests.
And some orchestra members offer proof that it’s never too late to learn something new.
Marcia Keene started playing the cello five years ago at age 70.
“I had played the violin all my life,” she said. “This orchestra is wonderful.”
While most of the symphony orchestra’s members are seniors, a few younger folks have joined.
“The orchestra is kind of a loose cannon,” Krebs said, adding that sometimes Holy Names students or members of other groups join the orchestra.
Violinist, Kellen Kanagy, 27, a student at Holy Names, is one of the younger members.
“There are so many great people here from many different places,” said Kanagy who is from Brazil. “Music and this orchestra gathers people together.”
That’s what Heckmatpanah finds so satisfying about conducting this particular group.
“One of the things I love about Project Joy is that all the members are here for the right reason – to make music and to make contributions to the Spokane community with the purest of intentions,” he said. “It’s one of the high points of my week and inspiring for me on every level.”