The New Horizons Band at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas may never threaten Hot Chelle Rae for space on most iPods, but the member-musicians aren’t all that concerned. For over fourteen years the music department there has encouraged seniors to learn to play a musical instrument or re-learn long dormant musical skills.
As odd as it may seem to see a room full of graying and white haired men and women coaxing dissonant squawks and screeches from assorted clarinets, flutes and other instruments, the pupils in the beginners band are determined to accomplish their goals. The advanced band’s efforts actually can produce identifiable tunes. One of those members, 63 year old Carl Backes, is reaching back through the decades to recapture the joys of music.
Carl learned to play the clarinet in fourth grade at McDonough 39 in New Orleans, LA. As he moved into Junior High, he expanded his skills to include the bass clarinet. Adding tenor sax while at Ben Franklin and John McDonough High Schools, he became one of the original members of the then-nascent Louisiana State University at New Orleans’ band, earning invitations to play in several All-City and All-State bands as well as the Pelican Boys State Band.
Finally, at age 17, Carl’s years of academic toil finally began to benefit him financially. He got a job in a band on Bourbon Street, in New Orleans’ famed French Quarter, laboring in obscurity to provide musical accompaniment for…strippers. He even played in back-up bands for recording sessions and performances as well as the Navy band at NAS Memphis before losing interest in the 1970’s.
Life took up more of his time, adding the roles of husband and father, which necessitated more than the undependable monies that music provided. And so it went as Carl worked first in the banking and finance sector, followed by the insurance industry. Finally, in 2005, he retired with Peggy, his wife of 41 years. Together they had planned to spend several years touring the United States and took possession of a brand new RV. Then they ran into a little storm named Katrina.
Their home in New Orleans was destroyed, so their RV became their home, parked in a friend’s driveway for months, while they volunteered hundreds of hours cleaning up Ben Franklin High School before selling the gutted remnants of their house. Carl and Peggy finally were able to embark on their journey across the USA, spending nearly three years discovering the West before deciding to build their new home in Denton, Texas. They still spend part of the year traveling in their RV, making sure to always include JazzFest in New Orleans.
Like many older Americans, Carl does have a bucket list. He takes occasional courses, belongs to clubs, and attends theater and concerts with his wife. Several of his photographs from his travels have been published, and one was even purchased by National Geographic. The musical score of his life has been full for Carl and tomorrow he will play in public – with the New Horizons Band – for the first time in 30 years. Let the music begin. Through The Lens: New Horizons Band « CBS Dallas / Fort Worth