UNT College of Music professor, students help North Texas seniors get in tune with musical talents

Wednesday, February 3, 2016 - 18:48
John Denis (center), music education teaching fellow, plays saxophone with the New Horizons Band. Photo by Ahna Hubnik.
John Denis (center), music education teaching fellow, plays saxophone with the New Horizons Band. Photo by Ahna Hubnik.

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 young seniors or retirees.

"A few months after I retired in 2010, I saw an article in the newspaper regarding the band," said Buddy Givens, bassoon player for the New Horizons Band. "I had intended to join the Shrine band, but my travel schedule did not permit it. Having played through junior high, high school and college, then 10 years in the Shrine band in El Paso, I missed it, so this seemed like an ideal opportunity to get back to music."

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 professor of music and chair of music education, studied at Eastman and, after seeing the success of Ernst's program, brought it to Denton in 1998.

"It has always been my goal to make music in the community," Rohwer said. "The New Horizons program is my stewardship endeavor, but also my joy each Monday."

There are now eight New Horizons Bands in Texas, with more than 200 across the world. Denton's bands alone have close to 90 members who come from cities across North Texas including Coppell, Carrollton and Dallas. Rohwer says she is thrilled with the program's popularity and hopes more will join.

"People can just come and start playing," Rohwer said. "We have a donation of $30 each semester that people can provide if they are able. It helps us cover expenses such as sheet music costs, percussion instruments and stands."

UNT students work with the bands and act as mentors. Rohwer says it is usually doctoral students in music education, and they either receive scholarship funds or a teaching fellowship for helping with the program. But, John Denis, who is a music education teaching fellow, says he gets something even more valuable out of the experience.

"It is always better to give than to receive, and so it has been nice to be an active part of the band members' daily lives," Denis said. "From a personal perspective, the opportunity to give back, to engage with those who have more wisdom and experience, and to continue to make music are all benefits of the position."

The Denton bands meet on Monday afternoons during the school year at the Denton Senior Center, 509 N. Bell Ave. in Denton. The beginner band starts at 2:45 p.m., and intermediate and advanced players meet at 3:45 p.m. The bands offer several 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.

Givens says he has made many new friends while playing with the band, and it has led to new opportunities. He now serves on the board for the New Horizons International Music Association and continues to improve his musical skills.

"While I love listening to music, playing is extremely rewarding," Givens said. "I doubt that I'll ever be able to play as well as I did in college, but, as we say in New Horizons, 'Your best is good enough.'"

About the UNT College of Music

The College of Music is one of the largest and most respected comprehensive music schools in the world. Approximately 1,500 music students attend the college each year, participating in nearly 70 widely varied ensembles while engaged in specialized studies in performance, composition, conducting, jazz studies, music education, music history, music theory or ethnomusicology.  Music students, alumni and faculty have made appearances on the world's finest stages, have produced numerous recordings with many receiving Grammy awards and nominations, and have written influential texts in a variety of areas in music scholarship. Distinguished University alumni can be found around the globe in top music ensembles, opera companies, universities, and schools.

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