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And So It Began....

An Abridged History of New Horizon's First Decade

by Paula Sousa


On December 23, 1990, the following appeared in the Rochester, New York, Democrat and Chronicle:

In the beginning the band was called The Eastman School of Music Band for Senior Adults. The name New Horizons doesn't appear in the list of names suggested by the members but was chosen by the time the band performed its first concert.  Roy was awarded a two year grant from NAMM, The National Association of Music Merchants, which kept the program free for participants. Imagine how delighted people were to discover they didn't have to pay! Wendell Harrison Music offered discounted instrument rentals to participants.

          Believe it or not, the band performed its first concert in Cutler Union on December 12, 1991!  After that, Roy wasted no time getting the band booked for gigs. In 1992 they performed in a few area schools, St. Mary's Hospital, and the Rochester Convention Center.  The following year the band “marched” in the Rochester Lilac Festival Parade. Actually, most of them rode in a pontoon boat, pulled on a trailer with Roy using a boat oar to conduct. In subsequent years he booked several summer gigs which included concerts at Ontario Beach, the Fairport Gazebo, and the Grape Festival in Naples, New York. The band also performed at senior living homes and area malls.  Holiday concerts were performed in local malls. In March of 1999 the band participated in an inter-generational concert with students at French Road Elementary School, an event that continues today.

          In early years rehearsals were held at Cutler Union, part of the University of Rochester's Memorial Art Gallery. This meant the employees were treated to the sounds of “music” coming forth from the hall. It's been rumored that these employees complained this “music” caused pain to their ears. Thus in October of 1992, rehearsals were moved to Orcutt Botsford Fine Arts. Then we really went on the road. During the next eight years, New Horizons held rehearsals at several local venues: St. Jude's Church, Temple Beth El, The Baptist Temple, St. Patrick's Church in Victor, and The United Methodist Church in Webster. The program had grown so large by 1999, that early fall rehearsals were held at Webster United Church, Temple Beth El, and the First Unitarian Church of Rochester across the street. By November, they had managed to work out a schedule using Temple Beth El and the Unitarian Church. In the early 2000s we finally landed full time in the Unitarian Church where we remain.

          The band performed its first Spring Concert in May of 1994 at Nazareth College. An annual Spring Concert was held there until 1998 when the band were thrilled to perform in Eastman Theater, home of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. Band members worked diligently to publicize the concert. They sent articles to local newspapers, mailed advertising post cards to friends and family, and gave interviews on local radio and television shows. The result of all this hard work was an audience of about 1,500! Kodak Hall at Eastman Theater remains the venue for the band's annual Spring Concert.

          Many of us enjoy attending New Horizons music camps. The first mention of a New Horizons music camp is at Snowmass Village in Aspen, Colorado, in June 1994. More camps followed: Chautauqua, NY, September 1994 and 1995 as well as Devil's Head, WI, 1995. These were followed by Lake Placid and Chautauqua, and even Sydney, Australia in 1998. In April 1999, some members took a musical tour of Arizona and New Mexico. New Horizons music camps remain very popular today.

          Musicians were always encouraged to form their own small ensembles and to build a library of music. Small groups were welcome to play before rehearsals or during breaks. Wendell Harrison Music also offered them space in the store for practicing. Roy suggested that the small ensembles perform for friends and families. These small ensemble concerts continue with annual performances in Eastman School of Music's Hatch Hall in March and “An Evening of Ensembles” at Kilbourn Hall in May. 

          It didn't take long for other bands to be developed. By 1996, we had a Green Band, Gold and Silver Bands, Dance Band, German Band, and a Clarinet Choir. Green Band was and still is the welcoming platform for beginners and those returning to playing after a long hiatus. The Silver and Gold Bands most likely played music of differing difficulty just like today's Concert and Symphonic Bands.

          In Spring of 2000 the concept of a small, 40-member Red Band was developed. A few musicians from each section signed up to play Red Band gigs at senior centers and elementary schools around the community.

          Besides being the leading figure in Rochester New Horizons, Roy began traveling the country and the world to work with others in starting New Horizons groups. Fall of 1994 Roy was awarded a five-year grant from NAMM for the purpose of expanding New Horizons. On the program for the holiday concert in 1994, there are notes telling us that Ed Mizma conducted alone; Roy was at The University of Iowa to start a band, then heading to Carefree, AZ the following week to start one there. Between 1994 and 1997 New Horizons grew to include fifteen bands across the country. Records show that by the Spring of 2000, the program had grown to 52 bands, including one in London, Ontario, Canada.

          Ed Mizma continued to conduct the Rochester bands along with Richard Sitts until 2007. There is no documentation giving us exact dates for when each of them came on board. We know they held it together while Roy traveled the country. Through the first decade of New Horizons, Roy's name appears in all the rosters as one of the conductors.

          In our Rochester New Horizons Bands scrapbooks are newspaper articles referring to the band being featured on The TODAY Show. Several members had their stories printed in local newspapers. It's apparent that New Horizons was a popular and interesting news topic at the time.

          One of the pleasures of looking through the scrapbooks is coming upon “Royisms.” He has a talent for saying some rather humorous things. For example, to beginning students: “If your note comes along, play it.”  After the band performed “America's Finest,” Roy is quoted as saying, “This is a bicycle piece – It's easier to play fast than to play slow.” He considered a wrong note as “an ornamental note on the way to the right note.” In 1999 in regards to lowering the age requirement for joining New Horizons, Roy joked, “New Horizons Band and New Horizons Orchestra have lowered their standards. You previously had to be age 50 or older to get in. Nowadays, it's open to adults of all ages.” A favorite Roysim which we've all heard and repeated is, “Play the notes you know; do the least harm possible.”

          To do justice to those early years, we must hear some of the stories from the early members, several of which are featured in our 2014 Rochester New Horizons documentary Music for Life: The Story of New Horizons. In the documentary Marion Claus tells viewers that the New Horizons Orchestra started the year her husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. “And I say that it literally saved my life going to New Horizons. It was a wonderful thing.”    Sue Wolfe wanted to learn to play an instrument. It was Roy's habit to ask new members what instrument they wanted to learn, or if there was an instrument at home they would like to play. In Sue's case her husband, Chick, had tubas. Sue reports when she plays in band, “I just sit there and think I can actually do this. I'm actually sitting here playing. I never thought I would do that. It's amazing. It's a wonderful thing.” As Sue aged, the tuba got too heavy, so she switched to trombone. What other organization will encourage and teach you how to play a different instrument? David Hall never had the opportunity to learn how to play a musical instrument while growing up. There was no music program in his school. When he retired, he decided to take art lessons. The lessons were held at the Memorial Art Gallery where he could hear the band practicing in Cutler Union making what David describes as a “… God awful noise!” He asked his art teacher what it was. When he learned it was a band for senior beginning instrumentalists, he contacted Roy, telling Roy that he had “...always had a hankering to learn French horn.” As he aged, he lost mobility in his hands and quit New Horizons. He claims he was miserable, so after a year he joined again and learned, at age 82, how to play trombone.

          And Gwen Luke gives a testimony that will warm Roy's heart. She says, “We have treats between band practice. And we visit with each other. And then we get back to playing together.”

          The first 10 years of Roy's inspired idea brought much joy to early New Horizons participants, the joy of making music together, meeting new friends, and being valuable members of the group with its many opportunities. Now we look forward to carrying these joys, these New Horizons traditions, forward into the 4th decade of New Horizons Music. And always, we extend to Roy our heartfelt appreciation.  

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