Seniors discover new talents

Jim Pence practices "Away We Go" on saxophone during New Horizons, a community outreach band geared towards adults 50 and older. Pence used to play saxophone in high school until he took a "51 year hiatus" and picked up the instrument again to join the band this semester. The band is composed of eight to ten players from the Miami area. Jessica Hodder//The Miami Hurricane

Adults in the Miami area are getting a chance to change their tunes and march to a new beat.

As part of a community outreach effort in the Miami area, the Frost School of Music has launched the New Horizons Band, a program geared toward teaching adults 50 and older to learn or relearn to play a variety of musical instruments, including flute, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, French horn, tuba and trombone.

“There are many benefits with the program including mental, physical and social health,” band director Susana M. Lalama said. “Many seniors are sitting home isolated and are looking for fun things to do and to find a new meaning to life. With the New Horizons Band, seniors have the opportunity to be more active.”

The program costs $150 and includes 18 hours of lessons and band rehearsal. New Horizons performs at several community events throughout the year.

“It’s an inviting service program for the community and is open to everyone,” Lalama said. “The environment is very welcoming. [For those who] are learning something brand new together, it makes for an inviting, stress-free social atmosphere.”

The idea of teaching seniors to play music stemmed from Roy Ernst, a long-time professor in the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester. He thought that as many people reach the age of retirement, they might be interested in playing music in a group setting, but lack the skill or the confidence to get started.

Since Ernst founded the program in 1991, about 150 New Horizons bands have been created around the country.

Age is nothing more than a number for people like 73-year-old Marcia Koven, who graduated from UM in 1959 with a degree in education. The former math teacher retired after 37 years with  Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

Now she plays the clarinet and flute, thanks to New Horizons.

“It is such a wonderful experience to play an instrument; it’s extremely important with developing your brain at an old age,” Koven said. “It’s not a lot of pressure and we all have fun. Susana Lalama has a dynamic teaching approach by making us all feel wonderful and at ease even when we make our mistakes.”

She credits New Horizons with more than just teaching her how to play an instrument.

“While I was attending college, I always thought the students in band were not the smartest people,” Koven said. “But after learning how to play an instrument, I have realized that it is hard work. I have much more respect for musicians. Everyone has to pull their own weight to keep the song going.”

Kamrel Eppinger may be contacted at