BYU’s New Horizons harmonizes all abilities in adult orchestra – Daily Herald

“All the way through … without stopping!” announces the conductor. The orchestra rumbles with laughter and cat calls. “Yeah, right!” sings out one violinist, and a cellist gives a friendly eye roll. The conductor is Gordon Childs, emeritus professor of music education and viola at the University of Wyoming. He is the cofounder of the group playing before him: the BYU New Horizons Orchestra. While he rarely keeps his promises to play through “without stopping” the orchestra loves him for it and follows his baton — even when it means they have to stop playing.

The string orchestra was established in 2003 by Dr. Andrew Dabczynski, who then served as professor of music education at BYU, and Dr. Gordon Childs to create an opportunity for adults — and especially for senior adults — to begin or continue the study of a musical instrument. The group welcomes adults age 40 and older of any musical ability, including beginners.

Midge Evans, a new violist in the orchestra, loves how welcoming it is for people who have never played before. “You play what you can,” she said, “and you find that at each rehearsal, you’re getting a few more notes. And the feeling you get is that it’s okay!” Every fall, the orchestra starts a new round of beginners. Those who are just beginning receive instruction in a small group until they are ready to be gradually introduced into the main ensemble.

The BYU New Horizons Orchestra is part of a larger musical organization, the New Horizons International Music Association, which caters particularly to senior adults and retirees.

“The orchestra helps me do all the things I should do when I’m retired,” said Nancy Athay, a long-time cellist in the group. “You get the physical activity from lugging around your cello, the social aspect, and you are constantly learning new things.” Her neighbor, Marilyn Laursen chimed in, “And it keeps you from becoming an old fogie!”

Orchestra members come from all over the county to rehearse twice a week at an LDS church building near BYU for two hours. These rehearsals prepare them to put on three to five performances each year.

While performance preparation is a focus of the group, an even greater and more unique function of the orchestra is that it serves as a learning laboratory for BYU Music Education students. These BYU undergraduates learn the instruments of the string orchestra alongside the New Horizons members. They also gain experience conducting the group and giving one-on-one instruction. The orchestra provides them a friendly, low-stakes setting in which to learn the skills they need to lead an ensemble. The members have expressed satisfaction and fulfillment as they play along with and receive instruction from these students.

The founders, Dabczynski and Childs, lead the group alongside a team of conductors. Allison Taylor’s first encounter with the orchestra was as a student at BYU. Upon graduation in 2012, she became a conductor of the group and now serves as the primary director. Dr. Sam Tsugawa, professor of music education at BYU, also conducts the orchestra and facilitates instruction for the BYU Music Education students.

The orchestra will begin fall rehearsals on Sept. 13. For information about the rehearsal schedule, performances, or joining, visit or email


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