Athens New Horizons Band Looking For Enthusiastic Adult Amateurs

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Playing music is more than replicating tunes immortalized on sheets of lined paper.

If you’ve ever been in a band, whether that was in late elementary school or with your cousins in a garage for a couple of years in early college, you know the multitude of benefits that come with playing music in a communal fashion – or just the benefits that come along with learning to play an instrument.

Matthew Talbert, an associate professor in the music education program at Ohio University, is looking to bring the enlightening experience of musical performance to older adults in Athens for these very reasons – and many more.

Talbert is starting a New Horizons band in Athens, a part of a long musical tradition that dates back to professional and academic musical circles in the early ‘90s. That’s when Dr. Roy Ernst of the Eastman School of Music developed the very first New Horizons band, which focuses on allowing those who are around age 50 or older to take pick up an instrument in a casual, beginner-friendly atmosphere.

While pursuing his Ph.D. in Columbia, SC, Talbert worked extensively with the Congaree New Horizons Band.

“When I started my Ph.D., I had never heard of New Horizons bands, but my major professor had started one there in ’07 or ’08. When he told me about it, explained it, I figured that I would have no problem since at that point I’d been teaching beginning band in public schools for years. I thought that I could just treat it the same – but you really can’t,” said Talbert in an interview with WOUB on a frosty morning in early November. “(When you’re teaching adults,) you have to take into account their life experiences and understand that they learn differently than children do.”

Talbert said that he’s taught musicians at all skill levels – from folks who played throughout middle school and high school and who dropped performing music to raise a family for 20 years to an 82-year-old who had never played a musical instrument in their life.

“When someone is retired, or close to retirement age, they often have expendable time – and the question is how do we keep them active? Socially active, mentally active, physically active?” said Talbert. “We want to create a space with New Horizons that adult amateurs can come to where the focus is more social than anything – we aren’t going to get hung up on mistakes. If people are interested, there will be my students available to give them extra lessons outside of practices. But more than anything it’s to give people an opportunity for some meaningful musical activity – to have some fun.”

Much of the philosophy of New Horizons Bands (managed internationally by New Horizons International Music Association,) ties in with the school of thought that declares all people can be “lifelong learners,” one of Talbert’s chief beliefs.

“As educators, we always talk about lifelong learning – but we don’t do it or facilitate it very often. As someone who taught in public schools, my main goal was not to have a child decide that they would somehow major in music in college, my goal was to instill in them the desire to continue to play – whether that was in their church, in their community, or even professionally,” said Talbert. “What’s important is not that these people learn to play perfectly, but that they have meaningful musical experiences while learning, which is exactly what we hope for when teaching children in beginning band. This is about letting them learn at their own speed, about giving people who are retired something to do that is truly meaningful to them.”

The informational meeting about the Athens New Horizon Band is slated for Thursday, November 16 at 6:30 p.m. in room 550 of Robert Glidden Hall on the Ohio University campus. Questions can be directed to Talbert at Participation in the band will have a small fee per semester, and extra instrument lessons will be available. Those who can facilitate the renting of musical instruments will also be at the informational meeting.