It's not hard to notice James Noyce when he performs with Columbia Basin College's Chamber Choir.
The Pasco man has a nice baritone voice, said associate music professor and choir director Dave Cazier, adding that Noyce can serve as a tenor if necessary.
But even without his voice, Noyce said people attending choral performances easily could figure out who he is.
"I'm the one with the white hair," he said.
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Already with three college degrees, including a doctorate, the 71-year-old retired radiochemist has studied music at CBC for almost five years. He'll graduate with an associate's degree in vocal music today.
School officials said older and retired people attending CBC courses isn't uncommon, but they usually aren't pursuing a college degree. Noyce's classmates and fellow choir members, however, said it's his dedication to music, not his age, that sets him apart.
"It's kind of neat to talk to somebody who's just doing it for the love of music alone," said classmate Miki Harvey, 25, of Richland.
Noyce grew up in Fayetteville, Ark., where his parents were professors at the University of Arkansas. He said he always has loved music.
"When I was a toddler, I would just sit and listen to the 78 RPM records on our phonograph," he said, further indicating he prefers classical music, such as Beethoven and Mozart.
He played the viola and took piano lessons as a child, but singing was his primary interest. He joined his church's junior choir and then school groups as he got older. His parents encouraged him, and Noyce said others told him he had good pitch and rhythm.
But music took a back seat when it came to Noyce's college education, career and family. He said he was too busy in college to join singing groups as he studied chemistry and radiochemistry -- the chemistry of radioactive elements -- and earned his degrees. He then was busy with his family and career, which included a 10-year stint, beginning in 1986, working at the Hanford site.
It was after Noyce retired in early 2007 that he decided to go back to school again to study music, specifically music theory, so he could compose. He and his family had moved away from theTri-Cities during his career but he and his wife returned and he enrolled in courses at CBC in the fall of 2007.
Noyce said he has taken every non-instrumental music course he could and began composing music in 2009 as part of his studies. Sticking with his interest in classical music, Noyce said he focuses on sacred choir music.
Teachers and others praised his work. Justin Raffa, the resigning music director at Noyce's church, All Saints' Episcopal Church in Richland, said the church had an evening service in April using five of Noyce's compositions. Raffa said the pieces were challenging but the service was one of the best attended of all the church's evening services and many enjoyed the music.
"He's really trying to find his own voice and not cut and paste the work of other composers," Raffa said.
Cazier said Noyce has grown as a vocalist over the years during his participation in the chamber choir, but he also "brings a taste of wisdom and experience to the younger singers."
Fellow choir member Tim McCall, 26, of Richland, said he and other singers have benefited from Noyce's time with the choir, as he does have more experience and is a leader.
"Jim always knows what questions to ask," McCall said.
While Noyce is much older than most other members of the choir, McCall and Harvey said the chamber choir has included other members from his generation. And it certainly hasn't been an issue when it comes to him working with other singers.
Noyce said it was awkward at first being in class and choir with so many people younger than him but soon learned he could hold his own vocally but also developed a good rapport with students.
"He's not afraid to crack jokes," McCall said, laughing.
Noyce said he's looking forward to graduation. His goddaughter Lydia Marshall, who is in the Running Start program, will walk with him. He's already looking forward to what he'll do next, possibly taking a poetry course to help him with writing lyrics, or the part he has in the Mid-Columbia Musical Theater's fall production of Titanic.
He doesn't think his getting an associate's degree in vocal music is all that exceptional; he just wanted to learn more about his passion.
-- Ty Beaver: 582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org