Concept and Philosophy
New Horizons Music programs provide entry points to music making for adults, including those with no musical experience at all and also those who were active in school music programs but have been inactive for a long period. Many adults would like an opportunity to learn music in a group setting similar to that offered in schools, but the last entry point in most cases was elementary school. We know that for most of the last century, about 15-20 percent of high school students nationally participated in music. From that, we can estimate that at least 80 percent of the adult population needs beginning instruction in order to participate in making music. New Horizons Music programs serve that need.
The first New Horizons program at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York was designed to serve the senior population. A minimum age of 50 was arbitrarily set as a guideline, since that is the age of eligibility for joining the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), one of the first official markers of senior adulthood. Many New Horizons programs started since then are designed specifically for senior adults and have minimum age requirements, but others are open to adults of any age. The policy of one of the New Horizons programs is “If you consider yourself to be an adult, you’re eligible.” The targeted age range and requirements, if any, are local decisions.
A New Horizons Music program should be inclusive rather than exclusive. Every person has musical potential that can be developed to a level that will be personally rewarding. Many adults have been made to feel unmusical, often by parents or music teachers. It is common at New Horizons informational meetings to hear people say things like “My parents said ‘No one in this family has musical talent, so you’re not going to start music classes.’” Or, “My music teacher said ‘Move your lips, but don’t make any sound.’” Those scars last a lifetime, and the people who carry such memories will need assurance.
The first New Horizons program in 1991 was a band, but the intent was to also start other kinds of New Horizons programs. New Horizons orchestras started a few years later. The concept and philosophy of New Horizons Music can be applied to many other types of music making and music classes.
Active participation in music fills important needs for adults – the need for challenging intellectual activity, the need to be a contributing member of a group, and the need to have exciting events in the future. For many people, music can serve these vital needs better than anything else. Here is what some participants say:
- Being retired and widowed I joined the band to have something to do. Now I don’t know what I would do without it.
- This comes at a time in life when you have the time to devote to it. When you join the band, you stick with it. Not many people drop out. It’s something that holds you.
- Next to my family, certainly, the musical activity is the most important thing in my life.
Many adults want the socialization of group instruction, and they want to be part of an ensemble right from the start. Adults participating in such a music program meet new friends and become an important part of a group. They have events to look forward to – concerts to play, concerts to attend, and trips. Such goals give added meaning and purpose to life. Strong friendships are formed in New Horizons programs (and there have been several marriages).
Music is a way of experiencing life. It can be the object of deep contemplation and a way of experiencing a broad range of emotions. It provides an opportunity to experience profound and serious thoughts or joyful moments. It makes connections to the past, the present, and the future. It also connects one to other individuals and other cultures. Making music is a way of making vital connections to life.
Many adults want to make lifestyle changes to improve and sustain good health. There is a growing body of evidence that music making supports good mental and physical health. Gerontologists have long known that socialization is an important factor for good health. The evidence is also strong that the “use it or lose it” principle applies to mental abilities as well as physical abilities. The constant mental challenge of learning music is an ideal form of exercise for our brains. The Music Making and Wellness [www.NAMM.com] movement is supporting research to investigate the link between active music making and wellness. Early studies indicate that music making can reduce depression and increase the strength of the immune system.
Sponsoring organizations for New Horizons Music programs include music dealerships, schools, community music schools, college music departments, recreation centers, and senior centers. The host organization for a New Horizons program will receive a great deal of good will in the local community. New Horizons ensembles perform frequently in the community and increase the visibility of the host organization. Newspapers and television stations are usually eager to run stories on New Horizons participants and events.
A New Horizons Band or Orchestra is a new kind of Community Band or Orchestra (CBO). Traditional CBOs provide enjoyable musical opportunities for their participants and are important parts of the cultural life of their communities. Nearly all the people who play in them, however, were able to read music and play an instrument before joining. In some CBOs, most participants have music degrees and auditions are required to participate.
A New Horizons program does not compete with a traditional CBO. It serves a different function and population. Some people who start in New Horizons programs go on to also join other community bands and orchestras.
New Horizons bands and orchestras become important parts of the cultural life of the community, performing in many different settings and for special events. In addition to formal concerts, performances in shopping malls and summer concerts in parks, they often play for retirement and nursing homes where added events are really needed.