Early Days by Dana Johnson
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Written Nov. 2020
Early in January 1991, an article appeared in the New York Times and Rochester Democrat and Chronicle announcing that the Eastman School of Music would start a band for people 55 and up. Roy Ernst, our founder, and his fellow faculty members at Eastman wondered if seniors would be able to learn to read music and play an instrument because most of their experience was with young students.
About thirty people showed up for the first meeting at the chapel at the Rochester Art Gallery. It was a mixture of people who had played a musical instrument years ago and others who had never play an instrument. We had plenty of clarinets, flutes, saxes and trumpets but no trombones or low brass.
When we returned from summer recess in September, we began practice for our first public concert. It was held at Cutler Union Art Gallery on December 16. There were about 35 band members and forty in the audisnce, mostly relatives of band members.
In 1993, four of us in the clarinet section decided that we would like to get more instruction in music. We found a young lady who was a recent music major graduate and who was teaching music in a local school. We contributed $5 each and started meeting at each other’s home once a week. We later found a masters degree candidate and clarinetist at Eastman who becam our mentor. Around 2000, we found a new conductor, a lady who was a member of the Buffalo Symphony.
By this time we met regularly on Mondays at the Jewish Home. In 2010, Al Woy became our conductor, and our group grew to 30 or more, consisting of clarinets in four different keys. Our group has become known ad the Clarinet Choir and some of our members have traveled to perform together in International Clarinet Association conventions in Louisiana, Texas, Colorado and Florida.
In 1994, New Horizons conductor Dick Sitts asked if anyone would like to play in a 40’s-50’s style dance band. So many people were interested that he formed two bands. Dick had played professionally in big bands during the 50’s and he had plenty of music available. The two bands started practicing and me after the main band practice on Thursdays.
The two bands have continued to this day and have become known as the New Horizons Big Band and the Vintage Jazz Band. Both bands have played in the Rochester Jazz Festival held in downtown Rochester over the past ten years. The bands have also played at nursing homes, schools and senior centers over the past fifteen years.