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Joining a band is music to the ears of these retirees

Ageing rock bands are not the only musicians who keep tuning in. New Horizons, an international network of community bands and choral groups with a Sydney branch, is providing an opportunity for those with a musical bent to finally embrace their passion.

Recall hearing the Beatles singing “When I’m 64”, thinking “that’s so far away”?  If so, you share that memory with members of New Horizons,an international not-for-profit network of community bands and choral groups with a unique proposition: to create an entry point for retired adults into music. 

The band is proudly inclusive and ‘all-abilities’, embracing first timers who’ve always dreamed of picking up a musical instrument as well as multi-instrumentalists.  All share something powerful:  finding – finally – that retirement gives them the time and space to pursue their musical dreams.

The New Horizons network has almost 180 member groups across the US, Canada, Europe and Asia-Pacific.  The Australian chapter was founded in 2014 by a core group of seven after a chance meeting with the founder of New Horizons International in Tonga and is now a 70-strong contingent of older music enthusiasts who meet weekly in the southern suburbs of Sydney as the New Horizons shire band. 

  • Led by talented and much-loved musical director Jenny Williams (concert band) and multi-instrumentalist John Brandman (jazz/blues band), the shire band (pictured) is now an entrenched part of the southern Sydney community landscape. 

    The band’s repertoire is expansive:  from pop (yes, including the Beatles), classical, movie soundtracks, big band jazz (Frank Sinatra is a firm favourite) and sultry blues; something for everyone, say Jenny and John.  As the band prepares to celebrate its 10th anniversary this year, its enormous growth in just a decade is testament to its broad appeal and the desire of older Australians to embrace a dream, stretch, grow and give back to the community in the retirement season of their lives. 

    The band is almost entirely made up of retired and semi-retired musicians, some well into their 80s and relishing the opportunity to make music with fellow music lovers. Founding group member Ralph Williams, who first picked up a bass clarinet at 62, smiles, recounting his later-life musical journey.

    “I thought when I retired, I would try a musical instrument and improve my golf.  Now I play two instruments in four bands and have no time for golf!”

    David Foster’s experience is similar.  Moving through the beginner and intermediate shire band programs under the expert tutelage of brass virtuoso Jo Holloway, David graduated to the performance concert band this year, after picking up a trumpet for the first time at 70. 

    “It’s a great and rewarding challenge.  Each week, I get to learn and stretch.  I feel like my brain gets vacuumed – in a good way.”

    Award-winning Canberra musician and composer, and former communications cordinator of Council on the Ageing ACT, Neille Williams, understands the appeal of the New Horizons shire band to older Australians.

    “We are coming to realise just how important creative expression is to mental health and broader life fulfilment.  Performing music is wonderful in using both sides of the brain and feeding neural pathways.  Add to that the wonderful opportunities to socialise and perform at community events, and you can see how a concert band environment could be an ideal way to spend time and energy in retirement.”

    It is simpler than that for the band’s percussionist, Anne Chard, an accomplished church pianist in her 60s who likes how her percussion role has improved the rhythmic aspects of her piano playing.

    “In the end, we celebrate the joy of music with a great group of people.” For all the Beatles’ great lyrics, they could not have said it better.

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