My Introduction to New Horizons
Each morning at about breakfast time I think about what chores or activities that I want or need to accomplish that day. For the past two months, since I became President of the New Horizons International Music Association (NHIMA), writing a few paragraphs for the website and newsletter concerning my introduction to NHIMA has been on that list. Unfortunately, there have always been too many other things ahead of it on the list.
I’m looking around and seeing that the rooms are all painted, the lawn is smooth, the garden and houseplants are looking good, and my desktop is relatively clear. So today is the day to write about my entry into the New Horizons fold. It’s not that I don’t enjoy writing. I love it. I guess it’s writing about myself feels awkward. Fortunately, my New Horizons story can be told by writing about two friends.
Saint Alice. I did not grow up knowing he the names and stories of different saints. In our family, we tended to call anyone (especially a woman) a saint if they seemed very humble and kind. By that definition, my “Alice” is rightfully called a saint.
In about 2003 I was teaching music at an elementary school in Naples, Florida, that served about a thousand children. Most students were from immigrant families and so many were economically impoverished that our entire population was given free breakfast and lunch each day. They were economically poor, but they were culturally rich. They loved to sing!
The school had a large staff of volunteers—they were often “grandparent-age” retirees who enjoyed helping our children learn their letters and numbers. We often paid them with a little entertainment. I had learned that the best way to retain control of thirty wiggling young kids was to keep them singing. We sang as we entered where the volunteers were assembled, we sang as we got in lines, we sang to say “Thank you”, and we sang as we left the room.
Alice was a regular volunteer at my school. And her husband, Eric, had recently cajoled about twelve of his friends into learning (or relearning) to play instruments and start a New Horizons Band. When she telephoned me, Alice said something like, “If you can keep thirty squirming children on task, I think you might be able to keep this group on task, too.” “What group?” I asked. Then she explained that her brother-in-law founded an organization called New Horizons that focused on giving adults opportunities to play in bands. And that one of these bands had been started in the community that neighbored our school.
Now, to get the most fun from this story, I’ve got to share a much earlier experience. About 20 years before this, I’d gotten my master’s degree in music education from the Eastman School of Music. My favorite teacher there, hands down, was Dr. Ernst. In the 20 years that passed between Eastman and Alice, I had been in touch with Dr. Ernst a couple times and had followed his founding of a music education program called New Horizons that was especially aimed at senior musicians.
Back to my phone call with Alice. When she said her brother-in-law had founded this organization I corrected her and told her that my old professor, Dr. Ernst, had actually founded the organization. She said, “Yes, my brother-in-law founded it.” I was determined to correct her and said that perhaps her brother-in-law had started a band or two, but that it was actually Dr. Roy Ernst in Rochester who had started to over-all organization.
Again, she patiently said, “Yes, my brother-in-law.” It was at about that point that I asked her to repeat her name and heard her say “I’m Alice Ernst. And my husband, Eric, is Roy Ernst’s brother!”
Have you ever seen the look on a child’s face when they “get it”? That look like a light bulb over their head has just flashed on. That was my look! Alice and Eric became two of my very dearest friends. And, in the process, I re-established contact with a mentor from two decades earlier…a mentor who would also become like a fun and wise brother to me.
When that kind of serendipity occurs in your life, it is good to jump on the train and ride.
Both Alice and Eric passed away just a few months ago, but their offer to try to keep that old group of players on task changed my life and I’m eternally grateful to them.