Richard Townsend loved playing in the Night Owls Campus Community Band, a concert band made up of Temple University community members.
He always had a smile below his Temple hat, said the band’s director, Deborah Confredo.
Every week since the Night Owls band was founded in 2012, Townsend would make the two-hour trek from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Townsend died from cancer on March 19.
Before he died, he asked that people donate to the Night Owls, in lieu of flowers, to honor his memory.
The trombonist and 1987 College of Liberal Arts alumnus hoped to make it to the band’s spring concert on Sunday, April 14, Confredo said.
John Paul Cruz, 57, a trombonist and Philadelphia resident, joined the Night Owls in 2014 and was close with Townsend. Everyone loved the late trombone player, he said.
“Richard was the backbone of the trombone section,” Cruz said. “You can feel the emptiness. It was too sudden. It feels weird not having him there.”
The 120-member Night Owls band is a melting pot of students, alumni and tight-knit community members of all ages and backgrounds. Members are preparing for their 15th concert under Confredo’s direction, who also leads the graduate program in music education in the Boyer College of Music and Dance.
Confredo’s last show as director is on Sunday and she’ll be replaced by Brian Ewing, the Night Owls’ assistant conductor.
Several members of the band said despite only meeting for two hours each week, they’ve made connections through their love of playing music.
“You grow attached,” Confredo said. “It’s like a family, it truly is. You share these moments of incredible expression.”
Confredo started the band, which is a non-credit course at the university, to increase Boyer’s outreach to students outside of the college and community residents from all around Philadelphia, she said. The Night Owls’ youngest member is 15 years old, while the oldest is over 80, she said.
“We’ve got a large age swing, and how wonderful is that, to have people like that sitting side by side?” she said. “Younger people and people in the later part of their life sharing a similar love is fantastic.”
Ethan Fogleman, a sophomore music education major, joined the band as a tuba player after talking to a few members in Presser Hall late one Monday night, when the group practices.
“[They said] people from all across the area come in, whether they are music teachers or they just haven’t played an instrument in a while or they want to try an instrument for the first time,” he said.
“It’s a nice way to see…Temple giving back to the community,” he added.
Students have the option to take Night Owls as a course for one credit or no credit, Fogleman said. Confredo estimated that the band is half students and half community members. They don’t hold auditions and welcome members of all skill levels, she added, and only a quarter of its members are Boyer students.
John Witmer, a retired banker who lives on Pennsylvania Avenue near 30th Street, said when he heard about the Night Owls, he jumped at the opportunity to play meaningful music with guidance from Temple faculty.
“It’s unique in that we’re in here to play and learn,” said Witmer, who plays trombone. “That gives us the chance to play with absolutely world-class instruction, which is something you don’t usually get in a community band.”
Cruz said playing in the band improved his musical ability.
“Dr. Confredo, she’s an amazing director,” he said. “She’s a perfectionist. The music they give us is very challenging, but at the same time what we like to [play].”
Candace Truitt, a first-year music education graduate student who plays the clarinet, said she was very impressed by the playing level of the band, which it has helped her make connections with many different people.
“Talking to people around the community is just refreshing, not to just talk with other students,” she said.
The Night Owls started with around 50 members in 2012 and has grown every year since, Confredo said.
“What that tells me is that people are having a good time making music together and that there was a need,” she added. “It’s blossomed into this wonderful thing that lots of people know [about] across campus.”
Peg Dissinger, a 1966 music performance master’s alumna, has played clarinet with the Night Owls since the band was founded and taught music in the Hopewell Valley Regional School District in Pennington, New Jersey, but said her playing was sporadic until she joined the band.
Dissinger, who lives in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, joined the band because she likes to play alongside other musicians from all different walks of life, she said.
“It feeds the soul, to be perfectly honest,” she said.
“We come together…people that can be with other people and enjoy the experience, and not worry about what color you are, or what religion you are, where you came from, what you do for a living,” Dissinger added.
Walter Johnson, 83, a 1957 accounting alumnus, has played flute with the Night Owls since its founding. He was drafted into the army after college and played the flute at Fort Monroe, Virginia, but did not start playing consistently again until joining the Temple Alumni Band more than a decade ago.
“It’s really gotten me back into music,” Johnson said. “It’s a real outlet, and I really appreciate being here,” he said.
Townsend also played in the alumni band, and he and Johnson would talk when the band played at Temple’s homecoming football game each year.
“Richard was kind of a low-key guy, but really a nice guy,” Johnson said. “I know that he appreciated the band.”
Confredo considers the Night Owls a gift, she said, an opportunity to share music in a loving and stress-free environment.
“Lots of times, it’s moments of really bad playing, because sometimes we’re out of tune and not playing the right notes,” Confredo added. “But when all that gets better and it comes together, there’s just nothing like it.”
The Night Owls, alongside its sister organization, the Singing Owls Campus Community Choir, will perform a variety of genres at its spring concert on Sunday from 4 to 7 p.m. in the Temple Performing Arts Center. Admission to the concert is free and no tickets are required for entry.
Lakota Matson plays in the Night Owls band as a non-credit member and is a freelance reporter for The Temple News. She had no part in the reporting or editing of this story.