It's Never Too Late to Learn an Instrument

Don't tell Eileen Alexander that you're too old to learn to play an instrument, that you played too long ago or that you tried but couldn't learn to play or read music.

Alexander, a music instructor for 38 years, won't hear of it.

"You didn't have me for a teacher," she says.

To prove it, Alexander has launched the New Horizons Band in Flathead Valley, Montana with absolute confidence that she can teach even beginners from ages 50 to 90-plus to play well enough to eventually perform as a band.

"You don't have to read music and you don't have to have one stick of experience," she said. "I'll teach you how."

According to Alexander, seniors all over the country have proved her right through New Horizons Music programs. Started by retired Eastman School of Music instructor Roy Ernst, this concept has spawned more than 350 bands around the country.

Even those with a few physical problems have joined these bands.

"People who have breathing problems find it actually strengthens them," she said. "People with arthritis improve the mobility of their fingers."

Alexander said she first learned about the program as a Wyoming teacher attending a week-long international band clinic in Chicago.

"The school paid my way and I went to all these classes," she said. "I happened on this one about providing a band opportunity for seniors quite by accident."

As a longtime music educator in Colorado, Montana and Wyoming, Alexander was closing in on retirement age at the time. The idea of tapping her experience to teach seniors to play immediately struck a chord with her."I thought 'That's what I want to do when I retire,'" she said.Alexander started her career in a middle school and high school in Denver where she taught art and music.After retiring, Alexander began to spread the word about the New Horizons Band, in which amateur seniors or those who learned long ago play their favorite music. Many express astonishment at the idea."Our world is so youth-oriented that older people think they can't learn or do anything," she said. "Their vast experience helps them learn pretty well."Alexander described the weekly classes as very friendly, fun and supportive with everyone learning at their own speed.A person's physical characteristics should guide their choice of instrument, Alexander said. As an example, she said someone with a pronounced overbite won't do well on a flute but could play the clarinett, saxophone or bassoon.With practice, Alexander said amateurs will learn to play their instrument of choice and seniors who learned years ago will regain their ability to play."People may never be a CD-making performer but they can enjoy a pretty high level of music," she said.When members increase their skills, Alexander envisions the band going out into the community to play at the mall, nursing homes and even parades. She said those who can't march could play aboard a flatbed truck."We can do anything a kid's group can do," she said. "All the magazines say the baby boomers are the new 40," she said. "People are more active and live longer. There's no reason we can't have special, cool things to do too."
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