• Briana Tomkinson

Concert band offers New Horizons for musically minded seniors


Pointe-Claire resident Barry Blackhurst is inviting fellow West Island seniors to keep their minds sharp while learning a new skill by taking up a musical instrument in the West Island New Horizons Band.

After retiring, Barry Blackhurst painted every wall in his house and tightened every loose screw, but after a lifetime of challenge, he started to feel like he was losing his edge.

“After retirement, painting is good, and all of those things, but they don’t challenge the mind. I felt that my mind was getting soft. I needed to get out of my business way of thinking and back into my ‘person’ way of thinking.”

Blackhurst’s thoughts turned back to an old flame: jazz. As a teen he joined his high school band, dreaming of being the next Benny Goodman. But although he was drawn to clarinet, his music teacher convinced him he was better suited for trombone. Trombone didn’t take, but Blackhurst’s love of music remained.

It wasn’t until a few years ago, at one of the Tuesday Dixieland Band Nights at Kelly’s Pub in Pointe Claire, that clarinet came back into the picture. It was there that Blackhurst met clarinet player Dave Spencer, and decided to take lessons from him.

“I could almost feel my mind starting to sharpen up and stay sharp,” said Blackhurst.

Soon Blackhurst was practicing up to two hours a day, and still craving more. He found the Montreal New Horizons Band, one of 200 bands across Canada and the United States created to bring music into the lives of seniors. It was just what Blackhurst needed, but after a few years of travelling weekly from the West Island to the rehearsal location downtown, he decided to start a West Island New Horizons Band that would meet closer to home.

Open to people over the age of 55 with any level of musical experience, the West Island New Horizons Band is looking to recruit a diverse group of 25-35 seniors who want to become saxophonists, percussionists, tuba players, and yes, clarinetists.

“Though we can’t have a band of 35 clarinetists,” Blackhurst joked.

An orientation session will be held on September 7 from 7-9 p.m. at Beaconsfield United Church, 202 Woodside Road. The orientation will include a chance to try out various instruments, including flutes, clarinets, saxophones and even a baritone horn, with equipment and instruction provided by Twigg Music. Special pricing on instrument rentals will be available to new members of the band.

The band will be led by Saint-Lazare elementary school teacher Christian Ingelevics. Band members will be asked to commit to 12 weeks of two-hour rehearsals per session. The cost to join will be $120 per semester.

Having experienced for himself the benefits of being part of a community of musical peers, Blackhurst is looking forward to bringing this experience to other seniors living in and near the West Island.

“It brings so much joy to my life. To sit down and practice and to progress from playing notes to playing music is a feeling that is hard to put into words.”

For more information, contact Barry Blackhurst at (514) 242-4831, email winhe16@gmail.com or consult www.westislandnh.com.

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