One New York professor's idea has expanded to an international fervor.

Dr. Roy Ernst, University of Rochester professor emeritus, conceived the New Horizons Music Project in the late-1980s.

“I just started thinking about a music program for retired adults,” Ernst wrote on the band's website. “I (then) thought ‘Well, we would want to give concerts, but probably no one would come.'”

He later stated, “I was so wrong.”

The first division was created in 1991. Today, over 180 branches exist, from the Prime Time Pops Band in California to the Coro Athena chorus in Italy. Each group has the same mission – to spark the talent inside aspiring performers. The Aiken-based division is no exception.

The CSRA New Horizons Band was created by a local player and a local teacher in 2010. There are currently close to 30 members. “Some people didn't know the difference between a tremble clef and a quarter note,” Jo Whitson, band manager, said.

Whitson, though, was one member who did come with prior practice.

In high school and college, she played the snare drum. In 2010, she decided to try the trombone. This lead her to the Congaree New Horizons Band in Columbia. “I was having such a good time, I thought, ‘We need to do that in Aiken,'” Whitson said.

Later that year, the CSRA New Horizons Band began.

Trumpet player Lois Potter has been with the band since its start.

Potter played her instrument in high school. When she heard about the CSRA division, Potter decided to tune up her playing skills. “I figured it was a good thing to come back to and meet people,” she said.

Whitson founded the local branch with Lauren Meccia, USC Aiken's director of bands. Meccia was the person Whitson called with her proposal. The two met and have worked side-by-side ever since. “It's really rewarding for Lauren and me to see all these people come week after week and giving up other things so they can play,” Whitson said.

Lately, the group has been rehearsing for its upcoming holiday concerts. One concert will be at the USCA Etherredge Center on Monday at 7 p.m. The second performance will be at Hopelands Gardens on Dec. 23 at 7 p.m. as part of the 22nd annual Christmas in Hopelands event. Both concerts are free.

“Traditional Christmas music” like “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” can be expected from both performances, Whitson said.

These songs will be performed with various wind and percussion instruments like the flute and drums. No string instruments will be used, though the group would like to add them one day, Whitson said.

There are two classes members can choose between – the 5 p.m. beginner's class and the 6 p.m. intermediate class.

Members can attend both, if they wish, Whitson said.

Private lessons are also given out to members. These lessons are taught by USCA music students.

One recent graduate, Adriane Fox, assists Meccia with directing and conducts the beginner's practice. Fox plays the flute and clarinet, according to the CSRA chapter's website.

Member Bob Levitt plays the bassoon – an instrument he tried in high school.

“I was always intrigued by this instrument, so I (knew) when I retired, it was something I wanted to come back to,” he said.

However, when he joined the CSRA band, he had a bit of a rough start. “I started totally from scratch,” Levitt said.

Doris Hammond, on the other hand, came back to her instrument – the clarinet – a bit more easily. The fact that she had played it from elementary to high school could have been the reason, she said.

Still, she was amazed on how much she had retained after more than 40 years. “I knew every single note,” Hammond said. “My fingers automatically went to them.”

To find out more or to join, email Whitson at or visit

Stephanie Turner graduated from Valdosta State University in 2012. She then signed on with the Aiken Standard, where she is now the arts and entertainment reporter.