New Horizons Band is made up of senior citizens who love playing music

April 15, 2011|BY MARIE GILBERT |
  • Dave McCandless of Welsh Run, Pa., conducts New Horizons Band, during a recent Friday rehearsal at the Hagerstown YMCA. McCandless was band director at Greencastle-Antrim High School for 18 years.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — Dave McCandless is laboring over a musical note.

He doesn't like the sound coming from the assembled group of 30 musicians, and the director taps his baton to bring silence to the room.

With gestures and articulation, he translates what he expects to hear with quiet authority.

And, in a few seconds, he gets what he wants: a single note, then another and another until the room swells with music.

It's a rainy spring afternoon and the band is rehearsing in a room next door to the racquetball courts at the Hagerstown YMCA.

The space is used during the week for spinning classes and Pilates, but for several hours on Fridays, it's filled with a different type of movement —  the kind found on a music sheet.

The room is home each week to New Horizons Band, a community ensemble that plays everything from John Philip Sousa to Henry Mancini.

But what sets it apart isn't the music. It's who plays the music.

This is a band for senior citizens.

No auditions are held. No musical degrees are needed. The only requirement is a love of playing music.

New Horizon's prelude

It all started in 1991, when the first New Horizons Band was founded by Roy Ernst in Rochester, N.Y.

Today, Ernst's idea of involving seniors in music has grown to an international organization — the New Horizons International Music Association, which, this year, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. The program now boasts almost 200 bands, orchestras, choruses and other ensembles worldwide.

Locally, the Hagerstown New Horizons Band had its start in 1997, said Eve McGrory, membership coordinator. She also serves on the board of directors for the international association.

McGrory, 73, who has been with the local group since its inception, said the band was originally associated with Hagerstown Community College but is now independent of the school.

The mission, however, has never changed.

"It's about giving older adults the opportunity to play music in a group setting," the Hagerstown resident said. "Music is so satisfying and that doesn't change just because you've gotten older."

The tempo picks up

McGrory said she always has loved music and grew up playing the piano.

She would have loved to have played an instrument in her high school's marching band, she said. But she couldn't.

"It was before Title 9 and females weren't allowed to be in the band," she explained. "I could be in the rifle guard. I could be a majorette. ;But only boys participated in band."

Despite such obstacles, McGrory said she never stopped playing music. A retired elementary school teacher, McGrory said she played for her students, played for her children and played for her own pleasure.

"Music is an important part of my life," she said.

When she was getting ready to retire, McGrory said she saw an ad in the newspaper about a band for senior citizens being formed.

"I thought it was perfect for me, so I signed up," she said. "The conductor needed people to play the clarinet, and though it wasn't my first choice of musical instruments, I learned to play it. I love it now. It's a wonderful instrument."

McGrory said being part of New Horizons Band "has revolutionized" her life.

"When I was retiring, I knew I would have a lot more time on my hands," she said. "I wanted to find a way to do something with that time that would be fulfilling. And New Horizons Band was the answer. It's so satisfying in so many ways."

McGrory said she has the opportunity to play with other musicians, performs for audiences throughout the area and attends band camps around the country.

"There also is a very big social component to all this," she said. "In my case, my husband died 10 years ago. The band has been so helpful to me. I've met a whole new set of friends that I, otherwise, would never have met — not just local people, but from all over. I really don't know what I'd be doing if I wasn't connected to this band."

Allegro, allegro

McGrory said the band started out with about 12 members, and membership has fluctuated over the years. Today, there are about 35 members.

She credits director Dave McCandless with bringing new life to the band.

"Over the years, we've had several people in that position," she said, "and when our last director left, we advertised to fill the position. Dave came, auditioned and won the job. He's just a perfect match, has so much experience and he's brought us so far from where we were."

McCandless said he had been the band director at Greencastle-Antrim High School for 18 years. He also puts together a band for Old Home Week in Greencastle.

Following retirement, he was looking to stay active in music. Directing New Horizons Band met his needs.

"It's a ball," he said of his job. "Sometimes it can be a challenge, when you have musicians with different abilities. The secret is selecting the right music."

But he has no problems with enthusiasm.

"People love being here," he said.

McGrory said members come from all backgrounds and all senior ages.

Many people are in their 50s and still work, she said. Others are retirees in their 60s, 70s and 80s.


Then there is Bill Richardson, who will be 90 in August.

Richardson said he played saxophone and clarinet at Roosevelt High School in Washington, D.C.He also played in the school's 10-piece dance band.

"But then I was busy with a job and raising a family," he said. "I didn't get back into playing music until the 1980s."

Richardson, who lives south of Boonsboro, said he took music lessons, and, for a while, was in the Rohersville Band.

Today, he plays the flute in New Horizons Band and said he enjoys getting together with other musicians.

"It's a lot of fun," he said. "I really enjoy it."

The group performs at meetings, banquets, nursing homes and schools, McGrory said.

But the band is especially excited about a concert they will be presenting this summer.

Hugh Allen, a band member who also books the group's engagements, said the musicians will be performing in July at the Peter Buys Band Shell.

McCandless said Peter Buys, director of the Hagerstown Municipal Band from 1920 to 1959, was the topic of a paper McCandless wrote for his master's degree.

When he joined New Horizons Band, McCandless thought it would be nice if the group could perform at the band shell in honor of Buys, who he calls a musical genius.

"We finally made it happen," Allen said. "This is a big event for us."

Allen said the band would like to have people related to Peter Buys attend the event.

"We want to honor them at the concert," he said.


Allen, 79, said he is an original member of the group and plays the baritone horn.

"I played in a high school band," he said, "but that was about it. When I retired, I heard about this group starting up, got an instruction book and brushed up."

"I've been here ever since," he said.

McGrory said people of all musical backgrounds are welcome to join the band.

"We have people, like retired music teachers, who have been playing music all of their lives," she said. "But we also have people who are just learning. All levels are represented."

There also is a German band that is an offshoot of New Horizons, she noted.

But what everyone has in common is a love of music.

"Music is truly food for the soul," McGrory said. "You forget all of your troubles when you're playing."

Plus, she said, studies have shown that by being active and learning something new you continue to form new brain cells.

"We should never stop learning," she said "At 73, I'm continually learning."

Want to know more?

Persons interested in learning more about the New Horizons Band are invited to drop by the Hagerstown YMCA on Fridays from 1-3 p.m. during rehearsals.

More information also is available by contacting Eve McGrory at

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