New Horizons music program taking off

06:56 AM, Dec 08, 2013

Jim Christy of Brighton takes parts in a New Horizons band. (KATE MELTON)/


Written By Melissa Balmain

Stop by the First Unitarian Church of Rochester on a Wednesday, and you may find what at first looks like a high-school band — but with a lot more bifocals and a lot less hair. These 30 or so players can pump out “Kum Ba Yah” with the best of them. Their lung power is impressive, and their zeal is contagious.

They are the New Horizons Beginning Band, part of an ever-diversifying Eastman program tailored to (though not restricted to) senior citizens.

Founded at Eastman 22 years ago with around 35 students, it now includes six times that many. There are ensembles for every level of experience and almost any band or orchestra instrument you can name, from timpani to tuba. And the program has spread well beyond Rochester. More than 200 programs modeled on Eastman’s New Horizons are humming along throughout the United States and Canada, with Australia, England and South Africa showing interest, as well. Roy Ernst, the founding father of New Horizons, advises all of them.

A hefty percentage of Rochester’s New Horizons members have stuck with the program from its start, and at least a dozen have taken advantage of its “play for free after you turn 90” rule.

It’s not as intimidating, being among people who are your age,” says Terry Forward, a retired English teacher who plays alto sax in the Beginning Band, while her husband, Tim, blows his trombone. “You try to be a perfectionist, but some of us have arthritis!”

New Horizons ensembles play gigs — at malls, hospitals — and every spring, they perform in Kilbourn Hall or the Eastman Theatre.

It’s kind of a big social thing,” says David Schrier, a retired Brighton dentist who enjoys pizza lunches with his fellow clarinetists. “When you play with the same people in the band year after year, you become friends with them all.” New Horizons has even spawned a marriage or two — as well as some touching farewells.

Two years ago, when member Charlie Rose was dying, his saxophonist pals came to his home and played “The Pink Panther,” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and other tunes at his bedside.

It was very moving for the players and for Charlie,” remembers band mate Mary Lee Miller. “Each of us, individually, was able to say goodbye to him. He died just a few days later.”