For 20 years, Denton’s New Horizons Band has helped North Texas seniors get in tune with their musical talents

DENTON (UNT), Texas - On Monday afternoons during the University of North Texas fall and spring semesters, the Denton Senior Center is filled with the vibrant sounds of a traditional concert wind ensemble – woodwinds, brass and percussion all working together in harmony. But, there is something unique about the musicians sitting in the chairs of the two Denton New Horizons bands – they are either active adults or retirees.

Buddy Givens, who played music in college, the Air Force and a Shrine band, says when he moved to the area, he was looking for new musical opportunities.

“I saw an article in the newspaper regarding the band right after I had retired and had the time to devote to it,” said Givens, who’s played bassoon in the band for seven years. “Now that my wife has retired, she has joined the band as a beginner percussionist, so we are able to enjoy it together.”

The two bands, one strictly for beginners, the other for more advanced musicians who want to hone their skills or re-learn how to play an instrument, are part of the New Horizons International Music Association, created by Roy Ernst, a professor at Eastman School of Music. Debbie Rohwer, University of North Texas associate to the president, chief of staff and professor of music education, studied at Eastman and, after seeing the success of Ernst's program, brought it to Denton in 1998.

“I love this program and what it represents – anyone at any age can make music with others and have a great time doing it,” Rohwer said. “These individuals embody what it means to live life to the fullest, even at 92 years old, as one of our members is, and going strong.”

This year marks the 20th anniversary of UNT’s New Horizons Band and they are celebrating the milestone with a special concert at 7 p.m. March 26 (Monday) in Margot and Bill Winspear Hall in the Murchison Performing Arts Center, located at 2100 S. I-35E.

Two UNT instrumental education doctoral students – Olivia Tucker and Samuel Escalante – work with the bands and will be conducting at the concert. Tucker says she has really enjoyed spending time with the band members as they prepare for the upcoming event.

“I love being a part of New Horizons because it is a meaningful way to extend music education outside formal schooling as a participatory, community endeavor,” Tucker said. “I think the group is a special slice of the arts, music and community spirit of Denton.”

Escalante says he loves working with the ensembles and helping the members realize their potential through music.

“What I enjoy most is everyone’s passion for being part of a musical experience purely for enjoyment, personal growth and socialization,” Escalante said. “I believe it is critical that we join and support community ensembles of all kinds.”

There are now six New Horizons Bands in Texas, with more than 200 across the world. Denton's bands alone have close to 80 members who come from cities across North Texas including Coppell, Carrollton and Dallas.

The Denton bands meet on Monday afternoons during the school year at the Denton Senior Center, 509 N. Bell Ave. The beginner band starts at 2:45 p.m., and intermediate and advanced players meet at 3:45 p.m. In addition to the anniversary concert, the bands offer performances throughout the year including appearances at the Denton Arts and Jazz festival each spring, and a benefit concert in the fall to raise funds for a local charity.  

Eugenia King, clarinetist for the band, says that everyone in the band is extremely welcoming regardless of your skill level.

"I came in 10 years ago with only five months of clarinet training in high school,” King said. “I just want you to know that if I can do it, anyone can.”