In the beginning there was a dream…
Cathy Wilcox, an elementary school music teacher, and an active member of Dominion-Chalmers United Church (DC), found that she was encountering parents and professionals in the community who expressed a desire to learn an instrument and who regretted that the opportunity had not been available (or taken) at a young age. She also knew that learning and playing music not only offers a creative outlet in a spiritual and social context, but also exercises parts of the brain that might otherwise lie dormant.
For an adult, entering the world of music-making can be daunting, not to mention expensive and solitary. Cathy had noticed that many of the school-age students she taught were able to play interesting band arrangements within a year and, by the second year were able to reach a level of competency that allowed them to play a wider variety of styles, including small ensembles and jazz ensembles.
Cathy was inspired to propose to the DC Council that she spearhead an outreach program offering a weekly beginner and intermediate band/orchestra for adults with opportunities for the band members to perform from time to time at church social functions and services. Subsequent to preparing her proposal, Cathy learned from her father of the New Horizons International Music program and investigated further.
The New Horizons program was conceived by Dr. Roy Ernst at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, to provide entry points to music making for adults with no musical experience or with skills from their youth. The first New Horizons Band was formed in Rochester New York in 1991 and today, there are more than 100 similar programs in the United States, Canada, Australia and Ireland. Included in Roy Ernst’s philosophy for New Horizons is that the style of instruction must be completely supportive and free of competition and intimidation. Dr. Ernst’s motto is, “Your best is good enough.”
Finding that many of the goals of the New Horizons program were similar to hers, she amended her proposal to DC Council to include a recommendation that the possibility of a partnership with the New Horizons program should be investigated.
In the fall of 2007 Council accepted Cathy’s proposal on a trial basis, since the demand for such a program was uncertain. It was felt that if 12 – 15 people were interested the program could be launched. As it turned out demand was overwhelming and enrolment had to be capped at 60 for the January 2008 launch! Both the Ottawa Citizen and the local CBC Radio provided enthusiastic coverage of this nascent music organization. Thanks to this free advertising, no expenditure on advertising has been necessary, word-of-mouth being more than sufficient to maintain enrolment.
After the first session (January – April, 2008) a new beginner band was started in September 2008, and an opportunity was provided for returning members to form an intermediate band. Over the next two years, a jazz ensemble, a second intermediate and an advanced concert band were formed to accommodate more experienced players. Enrolment now exceeds 150.