Talented retiree trumpets music programs

HORN OF PLENTY — Versatile musician Norman Rains is a 79-year-old jazz and mariachi virtuoso as well as an advocate for the performing arts at Southwestern College. He has played in college since 2001. Photo by Kayla Hall

HORN OF PLENTY — Versatile musician Norman Rains is a 79-year-old jazz and mariachi virtuoso as well as an advocate for the performing arts at Southwestern College. He has played in college since 2001. Photo by Kayla Hall

Trading the tin badge for the brass horn, Norman Rains is hitting all the right notes.


Rains, a 79-year-old semi-retired investigator for the federal government, has been coming to Southwestern College for 13 years. He is a former aircraft mechanic for the Marine Corps who graduated from San Jose State with a Bachelor’s in psychology. He has intermittently attended SWC since the Fall of 1971. He started coming regularly to the school since 2001 when Professor of Music Dr. Jeff Nevin introduced the beginning brass class and Mariachi Ensemble.

Rains said he loves jazz and has always had the desire to play the trumpet.

“If it hadn’t been for music, I never would have stayed in high school,” he said.

Rains said he had not played trumpet since 1952. SWC presented an opportunity to pick up his horn again and re-learn what he had lost.

He initially chose SWC because of the proximity, but stayed because of the quality. SWC music programs include an AA in Mariachi and a beginning brass class that is difficult to find at the collegiate level.

Rains played in the beginning Mariachi and brass class for five years.

“I used to say I’m going to get a Ph.D in beginning Mariachi,” he said. “I was learning new concepts all the time and still am today.”

As he improved, Rains joined the Jazz Band, tried his hand at improvisation and took advantage of the different disciplines of music offered at the college. Professors and instructors here are top flight, he said.

“I don’t think they hire them because of their professional abilities to make music, but because of their ability to instruct,” he said. “They’re good at it. I’m sure they’re all top-notch musicians in their field, but aside from that they’re instructors and they can teach at any level.”

Rains said he has since moved to the intermediate Mariachi class and took up guitar.

Ray Nowak, a trumpet player for the San Diego Symphony, taught for one year at SWC while Nevin was on sabbatical in 2013 and worked with Rains.

“He was always very energetic about music and the trumpet,” Nowak said. “He was always interested in finding new techniques on the instrument or interested in finding out about new concepts in music.”

Nowak said SWC’s music classes performs a vital service.

“I was very impressed,” he said. “The level of exposure to the arts was very impressive and kind of a relief because it’s something I am concerned about in today’s society.”

Rains said he has been with the program for so long that he has seen its transformation, from one Mariachi class with 20 or so students to four levels of Mariachi instruction and more than 100 students actively participating.

“It’s a terrific opportunity for anybody who ever had any aspirations or a desire to play,” he said. “They can do it here comfortably. Age should not be taken into consideration, there’s no need for that because they accept anyone. They know I’m never going to be great, they know I am paddling so to speak, but they continue to challenge me and push me to get better.”

Rains’ long-term presence at SWC is fueled by the concept Nevin strives to keep alive—the value of community enrichment.

“We faculty are constantly fighting to keep the no-credit offerings in music,” Nevin said.  “I really do think Norm is the perfect example. His life is better, he feels better for himself and has more activities he can do. He is here all the time, at least two or three days a week and it’s valuable to him. If we eliminated it I think we wouldn’t just be hurting him, it would hurt all of us.”

Rains said he will continue to come to Southwestern College as long as he can raise his trumpet.

“They say old people should keep active.” Rains said. “Well, learning these concepts, reading and playing music, keeps me active.”


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