London New Horizons Band celebrates 20 years of making music

The London New Horizons Band was the first in Canada. It remains one of the largest with over 200 members as it celebrates its 20th anniversary.

It's never too late to learn how to play an instrument! Just ask these London musicians.

The London New Horizons Band is celebrating 20 years of making music together. ( Don Wright Faculty of Music/Western University)

It's never too late to try something new, especially when comes to learning a musical instrument. 

This season marks 20 years since the the London New Horizons Band first started bringing together adults to learn to play a musical instrument, or just refresh their skills. The group is one of the largest in Canada, with more than 200 members. 

Fifty-four people turned out for the band's very first practice in 1999. At the time, faculty members and associates from Western's Don Wright Faculty of Music were were inspired by Dr. Roy Ernst. He founded the first band in Rochester eight years earlier, in the U.S. 

For people like Mark Kearney, a lecturer at Western University, the band was a chance to try an instrument that he'd always been interested in playing. He joined New Horizons 19 years ago, after seeing his wife learn the alto saxophone. 

"I went to their end-of-term concert and was kind of surprised to see that a group of them could play together after a short period of time," he said.

He joined the following term, but chose a different instrument. 

"I liked the sound of the clarinet. It's portable, it's easy to carry around," said Kearney. 

The London New Horizons Band was the first in Canada and remains one of the largest in the country with over 200 members. ( Don Wright Faculty of Music/Western University)

Each week, new musicians receive an hour of instruction from students and faculty at Western's music department. Classes are offered at beginner, intermediate to advanced levels. 

Kearney said it's 'amazing' to see how far he's come as a musician since he first started playing.

"For someone like me to be able to have come in, literally as an absolute beginner on my instrument, and to learn how to get a sound, play notes, play songs and than to get to the point where you get songs and you have to sight read them and you try them and you do them and it's not great but 'hey I'm able to do that!' It's wonderful," he said.

Current Western Music students are the instructors and sectional leaders for the band. Teaching helps them to gain experience for their degrees. (Don Wright Faculty of Music/Western University)

Every two years, the band travels overseas to cities such as Prague and Budapest to perform and take part in musical activities. 

Last summer, the group played in Belfast, Dublin and Galway in Ireland. The trip included a performance at Titanic Belfast, the museum near the shipyard where the vessel was built.  

"I never get tired of it," said Kearney. 

Celebrating 20 years of making music

The band's 20th anniversary concert is December 1 at Western's Paul Davenport Theatre. 

Dr. Roy Ernst, who founded the first band in Rochester, will be attending. 

While it's a celebration of the band's accomplishments over the years, it also marks how music has a way of bringing people together to learn, perform and enjoy making music.

For Kearney, it has meant 20 years of friendships made through a shared love of music.

"We've gotten to know lots of people we wouldn't have otherwise known," he said, adding that he regularly spends time with band members outside of rehearsals and training. 

"It really changes your life in a lot of ways," said Kearney.