Musical hobby puts Allen on path to New Horizons

December 10, 2008|By JANET HEIM

It had been 50 years since Hugh Allen played baritone in high school, but that didn't stop him from joining the New Horizons Band when it formed about 11 years ago.

He admits his wife of 21 years, Miriam, didn't even know he played an instrument. Once she got over her surprise, she's been very supportive, Allen said.

"Oh, I love it. It's a good hobby. You meet a lot of people," he said.

Allen, 77, said he initially rented a baritone because he no longer had one. He eventually bought one and said he enjoys practicing just about every day.

The band started with 16 musicians as a seniors' college course under the direction of Hagerstown Community College faculty member Kate Levy, who was director for seven years before she moved out of state.


Levy went to college in Iowa and was familiar with the concept of a New Horizons band, started by professor Roy Ernst at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., in 1991. She was eager to start a band here, joining more than 150 other New Horizons bands across the United States.

Practices were at HCC's Valley Mall location; they now are Friday afternoons at the Hagerstown YMCA.

Allen said about half of the members hadn't played their instruments in years. Levy chose music that would allow members of different skill levels to play comfortably as they got reacquainted with their instruments. With time and practice, the level of music grew more difficult.

While Allen said the band isn't of the Hagerstown Municipal Band's caliber, they're "almost as good as a good high school band."

The band has more than 40 members, Allen said. No auditions are required and Allen said that even though the group is intended for those older than 50, no one has been turned away.

Allen said he appreciates the casual nature of the group. He said it's OK to miss a rehearsal every once in a while and band members sign up for performances based on their schedules.

The band has been under the direction of Dave McCandless for about a year. McCandless is retired and a former director of the Greencastle-Antrim High School band.

Allen is one of 12 or 13 founding musicians who still play with the band. He lives in Colonial Park on the east side of Hagerstown, but found his way to Waynesboro, Pa., where he plays with the Wayne Band.

While the band is an all-volunteer organization, Allen said it has the expense of new music, which can run $70 to $80 for a complete score. Allen is in charge of booking performances and said the band plays for town events and in nursing homes, as well as for community organizations.

"I like it better than when I was in high school. I just joined the band in high school because of friends. There was a lot of horsing around. Now it's not only fun, it's more serious," Allen said.

In addition to daily practicing, Allen said he and his wife walk just about every day.

Between Hugh and Miriam, who were both widowers when they married, they have four children, 12 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

For more information about the New Horizons Band, call Allen at 301-745-8832.

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