Concept and Philosophy

New Horizons Music programs provide entry points to music making for adults, including those with no musical experience at all and those who were active in school music programs, but have been inactive for a long period. Many adults would like an opportunity to learn music in a group setting similar to that offered in schools, but the last entry point in most cases was elementary school. We know that for most of the last century, about 15–20 percent of high school students nationally participated in music. From that, we can estimate that at least 80 percent of the adult population needs beginning instruction in order to participate in music making.

New Horizons Music programs serve that need. The first New Horizons program, at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, was designed to serve the senior population. A minimum age of 50 was arbitrarily set as a guideline, since that is the age of eligibility for joining the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), one of the first official markers of senior adulthood.

Many New Horizons programs started since then are designed specifically for senior adults and have minimum age requirements, but others are open to adults of any age. The policy of one of the New Horizons programs is “If you consider yourself to be an adult, you’re eligible.” The targeted age range and requirements, if any, are a local decision.

The first New Horizons program in 1991 was a band, followed by New Horizons orchestras a few years later. The concept and philosophy of New Horizons Music can also be applied to other types of music making.



Active participation in music fills important needs for adults—the need for challenging intellectual activity, the need to be a contributing member of a group, and the need to have exciting events in the future. For many people, music can serve these vital needs better than anything else.

Here is what some participants say:

Being old, retired, and widowed, I joined the band to have something to do. Now I don’t know what I would do without it.

This comes at a time in life when you have the time to devote to it. When you join the band, you stick with it. Not many people drop out. It’s something that holds you.

Next to my family, certainly, the musical activity is the most important thing in my life.

Many adults want the socialization of group instruction and they want to be part of an ensemble right from the start. Adults participating in such a music program meet new friends and become an important part of a group. They have events to look forward to—concerts to play, concerts to attend, and trips. Such goals give added meaning and purpose to life. Strong friendships are formed in New Horizons programs (and there have been several marriages).

Music is a way of experiencing life. It can be the object of deep contemplation and a way of experiencing a broad range of emotions. It provides an opportunity to experience profound and serious thoughts or joyful moments. It makes connections to the past, the present, and the future. It also connects one to other individuals and other cultures. Making music is a way of making vital connections to life.

Many adults want to make changes to improve their lives; gerontologists have long known that socialization is an important factor in good health. There is a growing body of evidence that music making supports good mental and physical health. The evidence is also strong that the “use it or lose it” principle applies to mental abilities as well as physical abilities. The constant mental challenge of learning music is an ideal form of exercise for our brains. The Music Making and Wellness (www.namm.com) movement is supporting research to investigate the link between active music making and wellness. Early studies indicate that music making can reduce depression and increase the strength of the immune system.

Community Bands and Orchestras

A New Horizons Band or Orchestra is a new kind of Community Band or Orchestra (CBO). Traditional CBOs provide enjoyable musical opportunities for their participants and are important parts of the cultural life of their communities. Nearly all the people who play in them, however, were able to read music and play an instrument before joining. In some CBOs, most participants have music degrees, and auditions are required to participate. In most cases, CBOs are not appropriate entry points for beginners. A New Horizons program does not compete with a traditional CBO. It serves a different function and population. Some people who start in New Horizons programs go on to join other community bands and orchestras. Many of them also attend CBO concerts.

The Hot Springs Community Band in Arkansas started and supports a New Horizons Band. The New Horizons Band sometimes plays prior to the community band performances, in addition to its other performances. New Horizons bands and orchestras perform in many different settings and for special events. In addition to formal concerts, performances in shopping malls and summer concerts in parks, they often play for retirement and nursing homes, where added events are really needed. 

For a comprehensive overview of New Horizons International visit http://www.newhorizonsmusic.org.