The Night Owls, a band formed through Boyer School of Music, brings together music lovers both on Main Campus and in the surrounding community.
The hallways of Presser Hall are filled with the sounds of an orchestra every Monday night, but it’s not competitive music majors working on their latest song. Instead, it’s the sound of the Night Owls – Temple’s Main Campus community band led by professor Deborah Sheldon.
Nearly 70 students and members of the Philadelphia community come together each week to make music. Each is at their own level of musicianship – from beginners to the more advanced music education majors there to broaden their skills. However, they all come together because of their love of music.
The idea began with Sheldon’s desire to help community members age 55 and older learn music with students’ assistance, but due to logistical issues, this plan was canceled. But, her desire to bring generations together and develop a greater connection to the community through music remained.
Sheldon said she also saw a lack of opportunity for students to play for fun, and that she wanted to create a project free of pressure, competition and jockeying for chairs. She also thought there were many music lovers who wanted to play again, but might have been scared of the audition process or didn’t have a lot of time to dedicate to it.
“For music students, in anything you do in life, it’s a competition, and that’s a good thing because it promotes musicianship,” Sheldon said. “This functions differently as it’s less pressure and it focuses on skills they don’t already have without assessing how well their doing.”
The one-credit class meets once a week for two hours. Students with majors as diverse as history and bioengineering participate in the weekly rehearsals to find their musical fix, in the midst of community members.
Sheldon said that a unique aspect of the band is that with several directors, the musicians are offered individual attention and direction. While many bands are overrun with musicians, Night Owls’ directors have the ability to help students when it is needed.
In addition to developing the musical skills of the group, Sheldon’s main goals remain in helping to develop the community and Temple relationship as a whole.
“I hope that creating understanding between the younger folks in the university and older folks with the same talent as them will bring [both groups] together as a common bond,” Sheldon said.
Alumnus and Night Owl member Michele Odhner said she’s glad to be exploring the universal quality of music with the community.
“When I was here a few years ago there was hardly anything the music department was doing in the community,” Odhner said. “Music is something everyone can understand so I think it would be really great for [everyone]. It’s an outlet for a lot of people, and it’s pretty cool to see the diversity of people.”
For Odhner, the importance of music and opportunity in any generation and throughout the community affects her everyday life. Odhner is a music education teacher at Gilbert Spruance Elementary School in the Northeast and said that many of her students have never had the opportunity to experience live music.
“The [students] have no vocabulary of music and just want to listen to hip-hop all day,” Ohdner said. “But when I bring in instruments for my kids they just sit still and want me to play forever because it’s there, it’s in their face.”
“The biggest thing is hearing live music and having the vibrations in the air affect you,” Ohdner added.
It is for this reason that Sheldon said she recommends that everyone interested in music give the program a try, regardless of where in music and life they find themselves.
“My hope is that if you have musical skills, continue to do it,” Sheldon said. “There is research that people who do and embrace music are happier people, it just makes people happy. It makes everything that much better.”
With the Night Owls’ initial success, Sheldon plans to offer free lessons to participants in the band, and give students an opportunity to work with the older community members one-on-one.
“It goes into the inter-generational thing where we want to link our students with the community,” Sheldon said. “It was kind of neat [at rehearsal] to see the students working with the older folks and their interactions.”
“We want people to come together in music and in a community,” Sheldon added. “If we accomplish that then we accomplished our goals.”
Danielle Miess can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.