New Horizons Band gives seniors opportunity to play music

January 22, 1998


Staff Writer

All five of Evelyn Madden's children, now ages 32 to 46, went through the band program at South Hagerstown High School.

"It's Mom's turn now," Madden says about herself.

Last fall, the Hagerstown resident was taking her daily walk at Valley Mall and saw a sign for New Horizons Band, a noncredit continuing education class for senior adults at Hagerstown Junior College's Valley Mall Center. Madden says she thought it sounded interesting, found her son Rex's alto sax and signed up.

In an HJC catalog, New Horizons Band is described as "an opportunity for senior adults to learn to play a musical instrument and to enjoy playing together in a band."


Of the 15 students enrolled last fall, all but one have signed up for the spring session that begins Wednesday, Feb. 4, according to Kate Levy, New Horizons Band director.

There's room for more, and there's still time to enroll.

No previous music experience is required, but class members must be 50 years old or older. They need a musical instrument and music stand.

The class will meet from 12:30 to 2:15 p.m. at HJC's Valley Mall Center Wednesdays and Fridays for 14 weeks.

There are lessons and group rehearsals with instrumental specialists during the first 45 minutes of the class. In addition to Levy, Ed Schupp is brass instructor, Mindy Galvin and Karen Hardcastle are woodwind instructors. After a short break, musicians come together for band rehearsals, which new students may join when they're ready.

Madden, who always wanted to but never before played an instrument, didn't feel ready to play with the band last semester. She didn't want to distract her fellow musicians. "I was still squeaking," she says.

She sometimes was frustrated early on, but was determined not to quit. Remembering how long it took her kids to master their instruments helped her to hang in there. Now she's ready.

HJC's New Horizons Band program was offered for the first time in the fall 1997 semester. Levy, a doctoral candidate in music education at University of Iowa, came to Hagerstown from Iowa City, Iowa, where she was brass instructor for Iowa City New Horizons Band - one of the four pilot programs in the U.S. established in January 1995 and patterned after the Rochester, N.Y., program at Eastman School of Music. There now are 15 New Horizons bands across the country.

Senior adults are wonderful as students, says Levy, who has provided music instruction to students of all ages.

They give lots of feedback, both in terms of letting her know how much they enjoy the class as well as having interesting questions, she says.

Being able to see both their music and music director through bifocal or trifocal eyeglasses has been challenging. A couple of the students wear hearing aids, so Levy says she's careful to face her students and speak clearly.

There are health benefits for senior adults who play music. Deep breathing, coordination, fine motor skills and learning to read music are good for people, according to Levy.

The band works hard and makes musical progress, but breaks provide opportunities for students to talk and get to know each other.

"We laugh. We have fun," Levy says.

Barbara Cashion, who played clarinet until the eighth grade many years ago, agrees.

"It's nice to make music. It's fun," she says.

She took up the oboe last September when she joined New Horizons.

"It's a hard instrument to learn, but I hope to master it in the next couple of decades," she says.

Damon Holmes of Knoxville wanted to play trombone, but his father got a good deal on a used clarinet, so that's what he played for about 10 years as a child and teenager. "Now, I'm the adult, so I'm finally doing the trombone," he says.

Retired HJC professor Larry Sharpe played B flat clarinet in high school from 1935 to 1939. He found a "new" clarinet at a flea market and played a little in 1972. He finds his participation in New Horizons Band relaxing. "The incredible thing is I can still read music," he says.

He figures his playing must be improving. His wife, Blanche, has let him out of the basement to practice in the kitchen, he says.

New Horizons percussionists have a wide range of experience. Jim Johnson and Jeane Kadle never had played musical instruments. Vince Mauro is retired from U.S. Marine Corps Band and played with Maryland Symphony Orchestra.

Kadle says even someone old enough to have three great-grandchildren can learn to play a musical instrument. She's anxious for the spring semester to begin.

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