New Horizons Band Ensures the Music Never Stops

Did you play an instrument during your school-age years? If so, it is likely that at some point many years ago, you put that trombone or clarinet away without a thought of ever picking it back up again.

The same can be said for many of the members of the New Horizons Band. Revisiting that instrument they last played in their high school days would have seemed like a daunting task without an organization as inclusive as New Horizons. The program includes several bands and ensembles comprised of a range of musicians—from first-timers to those who have been playing for decades and every skill level in between.

At St. John’s Embrace Living event to be held May 19, Eastman-Rochester New Horizons program will receive the Spirit of St. John’s Community Award. This prestigious award honors a community organization that provides for or mentors seniors through enrichment in a unique and meaningful way. 

The Eastman-Rochester New Horizons program began 25 years ago with the goal of providing older adults with the opportunity to perform music in a formal group. Started by Roy Ernst from the Eastman School of Music, Rochester’s New Horizons Band is the first of over 100 such programs throughout North America. There are about 250 members here in Rochester, including nearly a dozen residents from St. John’s Meadows and Brickstone by St. John’s.

One of those St. John’s participants is Bernie Van Apeldoorn. Although she has now been playing with New Horizons Band for years, the St. John’s Meadows resident remembers back to when she first started. “I joined the band before I knew how to play,” explains Bernie, who took up the flute at age 73. “I always liked music and (giving it a try) was always in the back of my head.” Bernie read a newspaper article about New Horizons and decided to jump at the opportunity to play. 

These days, Bernie practices once a week with the New Horizons Band at First Unitarian Church of Rochester on Winton Road. She started out as “a Greenie,” a member of the Green Band for beginners, but has since moved up to the Concert Band. Bernie loves the comradery that has come with being a part of the band. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s great making new friends.”   

David Reynolds, who plays with one of the full bands and two smaller ensembles, came in with a bit more experience. He played trumpet throughout high school and in college bands at Colgate University during the 1950s. David continued to play throughout his adult life, but admits that this unique program has kept him playing music more regularly than he had expected. “It’s a challenge,” says David. “The other musicians rely on me to do my part.”

Bob Stabbins—another New Horizons contributor who also lives at St. John’s Meadows—agrees with his fellow trumpeter. “Every time we get a new piece of music, we need to work on it until we get it right,” says Bob. Like David, Bob did play the trumpet during his high school and college years. However, he took a lengthy intermission throughout much of his adult life before picking it back up again.  As he puts it: “I got married and I didn’t play for 40 years.”

Bob’s second stint as a musician actually started with the Empire State Drum Corps, but he soon caught on with the New Horizons Band in the program’s infancy in 1992.  He has been playing on and off with them ever since. At 91 years old, Bob suggests his participation in the program has played a part in his longevity. “I enjoy it and it keeps me healthy.” 

Another unique aspect of the program is the high level of collaboration between participants and other musicians throughout the Rochester area. Some of those other musicians include conductors from the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, student mentors from the Eastman School of Music, and middle and high school bands throughout the community. While they are featured at big time venues like Kodak Hall and the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival, the program’s motto speaks to the level of expectations for would-be participants. “Your best is good enough.”

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