Aurnita Shepherd, Vicki Stafford, both of Covington, and Bonnie Durham of Conyers make beautiful music togther in the Newton County Community Band. The three women all play the clarinet and had given up the hobby for decades before joining the band.
COVINGTON -- Record producer Sam Phillips once said, "Nothing has the strength, the power of music."
Aurnita Shepherd, Vicki Stafford and Bonnie Durham know that's right. Each lady loved playing a musical instrument in their teenage years, but busy lives and other pursuits caused them to put their passion on the back burner. Decades later, they are once again making beautiful music thanks to T.K. Adams and the Newton County Community Band.
Shepherd, Stafford and Durham all play clarinet in the band, which is comprised of 60 members of all ages from eight counties. Their stories have a similar arc: Though they put their clarinets away for decades, none could bear to part with their instruments altogether. That's why today, all three play their original instruments from high school.
"You fall in love with your instrument. Even though I moved, wherever I went I took care to make sure my clarinet was taken care of," said Shepherd.
Adams, the Community Band director, was Shepherd's band teacher in eighth grade.
"He kept saying, 'Shepherd, come back.' I said, 'It's been 20 something years.' I'm not like T.K. I'm not a professional. I just did it because I liked it. But you can't say no to Mr. Adams," she said.
So, encouraged after watching her young nephew play a concert directed by Adams, in 2004 Shepherd once again picked up her beloved clarinet, which had been sitting idle for 25 years. Shepherd remembered much of what she'd learned in high school. The biggest challenge was regaining the breath power and control needed to hold long notes.
"The music just comes back to you," she said.
Like Shepherd, Stafford held onto her clarinet through multiple moves to new towns. She played for several years in the DeKalb Community Band in the early '70s before giving up her hobby. Stafford moved to Covington in 2005 and the next year, attended the lighting of the historic courthouse, where she encountered Adams' wife, Louise, who handed her a flier announcing an upcoming Community Band concert. Stafford attended, and after seeing the group sight read on the spot, left impressed enough to track down T.K. Adams and ask to join.
"It had been 34 years since I'd picked up that horn," she said. The instrument was still good, though the pads were dried out and it required a few repairs.
Stafford, too, found that despite the long stretch of time, she had a bit of sensory memory when it came to playing.
"It was not as hard as I thought, but not quite like riding a bike," she said.
Durham played piano as a child and took up clarinet in the eighth grade. Her fondest memories of high school involve band: football games, concerts, competitions. But marriage, children and grandchildren took Durham's attention away from music.
After moving to Conyers in 1993, her church choir director, a member of the Community Band, urged her to join. It would take 17 years for Durham to follow his advice.
"I kept saying, 'One of these days.'" She finally decided it was time to play again in 2010. She found her original fingering charts and instrument from her high school band days and, "I picked it right back up," despite a more than 40-year break.
"I'm kind of proud that I'm able to do it," she said.
The women go to practice once a week for two hours and perform three concerts a year. All three said they've found new fulfillment in an old hobby.
"It's relaxing," said Shepherd. "After a day at work and the stresses and hassles of work, you come (to practice) and let go of all the stress."
Stafford said playing music helps keep her mind active.
"I can only do so many crossword puzzles. I try to keep my mind fresh. Plus, it's neat to be in an organized group of people that have the same interest," she said. "T.K. Adams is a very inspirational person. He lives and breathes music. It's worth it just to be with him each week."
All those years, and the power of music never subsided for Shepherd, Stafford and Durham. It was strong enough to keep them holding on for another chance to play, however unlikely that seemed, and now, they have rediscovered a common passion.
Years ago, Shepherd said, "I would look at (my clarinet) and say, 'Maybe one day.' And this is one day."