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Band members play on virtually

December 29, 2020

By Michelle Alexander

Virtual learning has become a staple in 2020 and into the future.

The Johnson County Park and Recreation District tackled this challenge of reformatting programs to fit this new normal, too. One of the most surprising and successful virtual program success stories happened within the New Horizons Band.

The New Horizons Band (NHB) is an international music association whose purpose is to create opportunities and entry points to music-making for adults, including those with little to no musical experience and those who were active in school music programs but have been inactive for a long period.

The district’s New Horizons Band, a 50 Plus opportunity, is a local intergenerational group and a collaborative effort with University of Missouri at Kansas City’s (UMKC) Conservatory of Music and Dance. This group is typically composed of approximately 60 wind instrumentalists and percussionists. For the first time, band members, with an average age of 70, learned to play music together virtually.

UMKC graduate students were matched with small ensemble groups to perfect one music selection to perform in a virtual concert. As with many aging adults, these novice musicians had to adapt and were fast-tracked into the new technologies. They learned to record themselves playing their part solo, in tempo and then submit the recording to their student group leader. The students edited the compilations, submitted to their professors, Dr. Joe Parisi and Grant Unnerstall for review. The final product was shared in a Zoom concert on Oct. 20 for their peers.

This was a huge learning curve for all involved and the outcomes, albeit different, were just as rewarding. Participants commented that the smaller ensembles provided an opportunity to get to know band members better which would have never happened if they were meeting in person at the Roeland Park Community Center.

Others enjoyed learning new technology, the opportunity to work on different music they may not have played in the larger group and learning how to play and record while listening to music with a headset.

The New Horizons Band members will practice in the 2021 season with the website SmartMusic. This technology allows musicians to practice their instrument safely at home while listening to professional recorded music, giving the illusion that they are playing with a full band. SmartMusic also allows for the player to receive instant feedback on their performance. Making the most out of the current circumstances, the 50 Plus program continues to look for creative ways to offer programming for residents in the Johnson County area.

If you are interested in learning more about how to become involved with the New Horizons Band please contact Lisa Eagle, 50 Plus recreation coordinator, at 913-826-3161 or at [email protected].

To view all virtual recreation opportunities provided by JCPRD’s 50 Plus Department, visit jcprd.com/50plusvirtual.

Michelle Alexander is 50 Plus Department manager for Johnson County Park and Recreation District.