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Trumpets and Drums: A Decades-Long

Dream Deferred

Elaine Miller

My musical career began with the wood block, as a third-grader at John Greenleaf Whittier School in Teaneck, NJ.   I had good rhythm, and Miss Robinson, the teacher, noticed.  I was permanently assigned to the wood block, and I loved it. But in the fifth grade I was steered to the violin. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. I secretly dreamed of trumpets and drums. I never spoke about my attraction to those extroverted brasses and percussions.  I somehow knew they were off-limits for me. Girls did not play them. Girls played flutes, violins, and clarinets.

elaine plays the drum.jpg

But my musical career did not end with that third grade class!  Years later, as I neared retirement, a good friend who knew of my love for music steered me to a band she had joined, the New Horizons Band. I gave it just a moment’s thought, then happily signed on.   I could learn a new instrument from scratch. Maybe even a trumpet or drums! I decided on drums. I had found a personal new horizon.


I joined the band as a percussionist with zero experience.  Uneasy about making a loud mistake, in our first session, I tried to play on the rubber practice pad, but the conductor spotted that and took it away!

I love to look at the instruments that my companions bring to the band, some for their shiny new-ness, others because they have acquired the character that comes from loving use over long periods of time.  Especially the tubas, whose dings and dents win my affection. They make me smile.  My old wooden snare drum, inherited from my next-door neighbor, stands out amid the shiny metallic showiness of the ones played by my fellow percussionists.  I think of my older sister’s advice concerning performance activities: “never let your outfit or your equipment exceed your skill level.” 

 The drum I have is the right drum for me. 

 While each group of instruments has its predictable character, the band members’ creativity shows up in the devices they have jerry-rigged to transport them, a whimsical assortment of satchels and bags, suitcases on wheels, and “retrofitted” blue boxes and shopping carts. They fit the intended casual, non-intimidating atmosphere. The conductors’ quips reflect that, too.  They joke with us, playfully:

            “Remember, first do no harm.”

            “Anyone who commits an unintended solo must stand up and take a bow.”

            “That was the best concert B-flat I’ve ever heard…. Who wasn’t playing?


The New Horizons Band is special to me in many ways.  Besides the camaraderie with a wonderful collection of “seniors” sharing their excitement over a new adventure, , there are the summer outdoor gigs that we do in local communities who welcome us with  delightful enthusiasm for our performances, the school gigs at which the students laugh with joy as we display the instruments, showing special delight over the tubas.  And, of course, the end-of-year concert at Kodak Hall


The New Horizons Band is a gift to the community--a labor of love offered up so generously by the conductors and the tutors.  Their talent is remarkable, their patience is limitless, and their sense of humor is, happily, very expansive.



Garrison Keillor, in his satiric piece called The Young Lutheran’s Guide to the Orchestra, observes in his sardonic way that, “To each person God gives some talent, such as writing, just to name one, and to many persons He has given musical talent, though not as many as think so.”  Perhaps.  But I am glad that the members of the New Horizons Band do not linger on this question.  With earnest dedication, youthful exuberance, and the delight of making credible music, we play on.

Elaine K. Miller


Are you interested in joining New Horizons?  It's easier than you think.  Click here for the contact page and we'll help you get started.

Following are more stories of Finding Happiness in New Horizons:


Finding Happiness
Gina Maldonado

I am so happy to be the newest member of New Horizons. I am having a lot of fun and have rediscovered the joy of playing in a large group. I had a list of things I promised myself I would do when I retired and one of them was to get back into playing my flute. Here is my story about finding New Horizons.


Gina Maldonado.jpg

I had not played regularly since high school, other than a 7 year stint in the student - parent band at Willink Middle school in the 2000s. Playing with all three of my children was a blast. Other than that, it had been way too long since I had played. 


Upon retirement I went to Thomas music and had my flute overhauled. They were excellent and excited that I was going to pick up my instrument again. To encourage me, they gave me a brochure about New Horizons but I was too nervous to call. 


Watching the news late one night, I saw the community story about the 90th birthday party celebration for a long time member and I thought “that’s the band from the brochure and everyone looks very nice and normal and welcoming” so the next day I called Eastman Community Music School. 


The office gave me the email of the band directors and I realized that one of them was Larry Neeck, who had taught my children music AND co-directed the student-parent band. Small world! When I emailed Larry he remembered me and was very encouraging.

I took a deep breath and summoned my courage and came to a rehearsal and I love it! It is a challenge for me because I have not played for so long.  However, it has been such a welcoming and encouraging group and  I am improving every week. The directors are excellent and it is simply a wonderful group.


Are you interested in joining New Horizons?  It's easier than you think.  Click here for the contact page and we'll help you get started.

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