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First Wind Band offers second chance for long-lost musical talent

If there’s an old musical instrument in the closet gathering dust and rust, just get it out and start playing it, say members of the area’s beginning band for seniors.

Musicians with The First Wind Band cite camaraderie, challenge and accomplishment as reason they returned to instruments they sometimes abandoned for decades. The band was formed at The Center, formerly known as the Senior Center, by members looking to rediscover old pleasures.

“It’s about doing something they’ve wanted to do for a long time, something they did decades ago and gave it up to do adult things or just never got the chance,” said director Greg Vaughn. “We play real music, it’s just written so it’s a little easier to play than in the other bands where people have been playing for some time.”

For a half-century, dormant musicians have tightened their strings, grasped their mallets, embraced their embouchures and puckered up to blow in The Center’s Second Wind Band. That band grew in size and musical ability until there was a need for a new beginner’s group.

Six years ago, the First Wind Band was created for those who spent a lifetime not playing or who wanted to learn a new instrument. The band is open to beginning and former musicians who have a long road to roll on their trip to musicianship.

“There are a lot of people who played in high school who wished they played throughout their lives. When they get to retirement age, they figure, why not? For most of them, the biggest issue about joining the band is just breaking the ice,” Vaughn said. “We are first a musical group and then we’re educational, but to be honest, it’s a really sociable group and people find they fit in well and enjoy being around their bandmates.”

The First Wind Band has some unique rules. Try is the first rule. Don’t worry is the second. Have fun is the third.

Deloris Bradshaw knows the rules by heart. When she retired, the 72-year-old clarinetist decided she wanted to scratch an item off her bucket list and play in a marching band. Although the First Wind Band is sedentary, it was close enough.

“I played piano growing up and I loved marching bands. I’d go out of my way for miles to see a marching band play,” she said. “One thing on my bucket list was to play in a marching band, but that ship had obviously sailed.”

When her husband returned to his saxophone after a heart attack, Bradshaw decided to give music another chance.

“I got his sax out of the closet for him to play and bought him some play-long CDs. He kept trying to get me to play. At one point, he asked what instrument I wanted to play and I said, probably a clarinet,” she recalled. “I came home the next day and a clarinet was sitting on the table.”

Bradshaw has played with the First Wind Band for its six years and has spent some time in the Second Wind Band, as well.

“If you took piano lessons early in life, it makes learning a band instrument as an adult a lot easier. You understand the music and the concepts and some theory,” she said. “All that’s left is to learn to blow.”

Helen Oliver, who is 87, joined the band when she gave up one instrument — her voice — to take up another.

“I sang in choirs up until about five years ago, and I realized my voice was not going to hold up. I played flute in junior high and I decided to start flute again and put music back in my life,” she said.

“It was surprising that, even though it had been 70 years, how much I remembered. Because I had been singing for years, I hadn’t lost track of the notes. For some of us, it’s a bit difficult because our fingers aren’t moving as fast and the arthritis is there,” she said. “I play some notes and pretend to play others. I’m a really good actress!”

For Rebecca Adams Oliver, 59, joining the band was a matter of striking out on her own after the kids flew the nest and she retired.

“I retired and spent about nine months on the couch watching Hallmark movies and then I decided I have got to do something,” she laughed. “We had a house full of percussion instruments and I thought I’d either donate them or learn to play them. We had some bongos, a concert snare and a practice [glockenspiel], and I just dusted them off.”

Like many who take up an instrument or return to it, she joined a church band to get in some playing time.

“There were a lot of tears in church when they first heard me play,” she laughed. “I wasn’t that good.”

Jane Whitworth, 78, has been in the Second Wind Band for 21 years behind a tenor saxophone. She’s now playing in the First Wind Band behind a baritone sax.

“Two friends of my husband played in the Second Wind Band and when they learned I played sax in high school, they started working on me. It came back really fast. It surprised me how fast it came back, from the notes to the fingering,” she said.

“The bari sax is different and it takes some getting used to. I play in all three bands at The Center and my skills improve all the time,” she said. “I used to tell people I was the best of the worst, but I’m not ready to claim the worst of the best, yet. I’m not that good.”

Vaughn’s story of returning to music is similar to those of his players. The 59-year-old took two decades off from music after playing trumpet in high school until one Sunday, shortly after his mother’s death, he was in church listening to the choir.

“I was thinking how well brass goes with hymns, how much it adds to the songs and the style of hymns,” he recalled. “I turned to my wife and said, ‘if they ever start a band in church, I’ll start playing again.’ She looked at me and said, ‘you play?’ I knew it was time.”

Vaughn now gives private lessons, plays in local bands and directs The Center’s three groups, the 24-member First Wind, 43-member Second Wind and a 16-member jazz ensemble called The Flashbacks.

“There’s solid evidence that learning and playing music, especially in a group, improves mental agility, physical dexterity and provides a solid social setting,” he said. “There are a lot of outlets for people to play, whether it’s in church or one of our bands.”

His band members agree.

“It’s really good mental development and brain training,” Rebecca Oliver said. “You can do Sudoku and puzzles and activities, but when Greg throws a new piece at me, it exercises my brain and my hands and reflexes.”


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