"We don't stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing."
I doubt Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw was thinking about "playing" musical instruments when he said that, but if he'd been talking about New Horizons Band, he'd have been spot on.
New Horizons Band is a community musical ensemble for senior citizens. The concept began in 1991 at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., the brainchild of Roy Ernst. In the introduction to a book about the phenomenon, Ernst wrote that he believed "anyone can learn to play music at a level that will bring a sense of accomplishment and the ability to perform in a group."
Now, 21 years later, there are more than 8,500 members in more than 200 bands, orchestras and choruses in five countries in what has become the New Horizons International Music Association— the result of Ernst's "bright idea."
I borrow that phrase from Eve McGrory, charter member and membership coordinator for the New Horizons Band in Hagerstown. Eve, a retired second-grade teacher, fellow "Jersey girl" and elementary school volunteer tutor, plays clarinet with the local ensemble. She also serves on the international association's board of directors.
Hagerstown New Horizons is celebrating its 15th anniversary.
I wrote a story about the band in January 1998. The program had begun the previous fall semester as a noncredit continuing education class for senior adults at then-Hagerstown Junior College's Valley Mall Center.
Kate Levy founded the New Horizons Band in Hagerstown with 15 players. The group is now 50 members strong — and I do mean strong.