New Horizons band performs a free community concert this weekend

26 Oct

A concert this weekend at Willink Middle School features a band that has a rather unusual story.

The aptly-named New Horizons combined concert and symphonic band, which will perform Saturday Oct. 29 at 4 p.m., is part of an Eastman Community Music School program which provides musical experiences for adults, regardless of experience level. Its bands are open to any adult who wants to play an instrument, even if they’ve never played an instrument before.

These brand-new, “green” musicians, who learn from the ground up from band directors, mentors and private instructors, are joined by more experienced musicians, many of whom are returning to performing after many years. New members don’t even have to audition to join the band, because you don’t have to know how to play; anyone of any experience level is welcome.

The concept has changed little since 1991, when Roy Ernst, a professor at Eastman, came up with the idea to form a band for senior citizens.

His original ad, which ran in the Democrat and Chronicle, looked like this:

The first rehearsal was held at the Cutler Union, now part of the Memorial Art Gallery. The 30 or so musicians who showed up included several who had played years before, and some who had never played. In a historical piece she wrote for the New Horizons website, original band member Dana Johnson said there were “plenty of clarinets, flutes, saxes and trumpets but no trombones or low brass.” Barry Rabson, another original member, recalled, “It was fun, but the music was terrible!”

Nevertheless, the band rehearsed faithfully and presented their first concert in December of that year. Dana wrote, “There were about 35 band members and 40 in the audience, mostly relatives of band members.” The following year, the band continued to spread their wings, performing at schools, St. Mary’s Hospital, the Rochester Convention Center, and on a float in the Lilac Festival Parade.

In 2021, the New Horizons Program celebrated its 60th anniversary. A few things have changed in that time. Membership, for example, has grown from the original 35 to about 340. The band, while open to any adult, is still composed primarily of seniors, mostly because rehearsals are held during the day. The original, single band program has expanded to offer 17 smaller ensembles, including beginning, intermediate and advanced bands, a Big Band, beginning strings, full and string orchestras, a chorus and several chamber ensembles.

One main thing, however, hasn’t changed: New Horizons is and has always been a welcoming community of beginner and experienced musicians who simply love making music and make new friends in a non-competitive, collaborative and supportive environment. It’s an idea that’s been so well received that the program has spread to more than 200 other programs across the U.S., Canada and Europe.

About 80 of these talented, passionate musicians (including some of the newbies) will perform in the weekend’s New Horizon Band Fall Concert, Saturday afternoon beginning at 4 p.m. at Willink Middle School, 900 Publisher’s Parkway in Webster. Admission is free and everyone is welcome.

Click here to read more about Rochester New Horizons and find out how you can get involved.

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(posted 10/26/2022)

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