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New job not stopping longtime Newton school band leader from work in community
Elijah Clark
From left, Elijah Clark is succeeding Alan Fowler as only the second band director in 26 years at Eastside. - photo by Special to The News

COVINGTON, Ga. — It was before a 2014 Newton County Community Band rehearsal that Alan Fowler knew he had a special responsibility to the local arts community.

“In the summer of 2014, (band founder T.K. Adams) pulled me aside before a rehearsal to tell me he would be stepping down as the Newton County Community Band’s director and asked if I would be up for the challenge of taking the baton,” Fowler said.

“It is an incredible honor to stand on his podium each week.”

Fowler said nothing will change about his leadership of the Community Band after his recent retirement from directing Eastside High School’s The Pride of Eastside marching band to become executive director of the 2,800-member Georgia Music Educators Association (GMEA) July 1. 

The secondary fine arts specialist for the Newton County School System and 26-year band director recently retired from the job. He was among a small group of faculty members still at the school in 2022 who saw Eastside’s first graduating class 24 years earlier in 1998.

Fowler, though, said he was not looking to retire and was preparing to lead the Eastside band in the new school building on Georgia Hwy. 142 when he learned about the rare opening at the GMEA. 

“I was not tired of doing the job,” he said. “I had planned to be around a lot longer.”

His predecessor, Cecil Wilder, had led the association for 26 years before retiring in February.

“I thought, ‘I could do that job,’” Fowler recalled. “Some friends encouraged me to apply.”

He said he and his Eastside successor, Elijah Clark, were making plans to move to the new school building when he interviewed for the job in mid-May. He was announced as the new GMEA executive director in late May.

Fowler said he will miss working with young people and seeing them develop as musicians — and in life. 

“It’s the kids,” Fowler said. 

“The music is an aspect of it,” he said. “But even through the stressful times ... I think the kids have kept me young.”

In fact, Fowler will be succeeded as director by one of those “kids.”

Fowler first met Clark when he was a 13-year-old prospective Eastside band member and he was the first to suggest Clark learn to play the tuba.

Clark went on to perform in the Auburn University Marching Band before beginning a career as an arts educator and serving as Fowler’s top assistant. 

“Elijah was right there with me,” Fowler said. “We visited the new school an hour before I got the (GMEA) offer.”

He said it “gave me such peace” that Clark will succeed him as director of Eastside’s 112-member band this year.

“It was nice knowing Elijah (got the job),” Fowler said. “It helped me sleep.”

He also plans to resist the urge to visit Clark at the school to give his successor the space needed to establish his own role as the Eastside band’s director. 

Clark said Fowler “has been a teacher, a mentor, my biggest supporter and advocate, another father figure, my brother and above all else, my friend.” 

He said the top lessons he will take into his new job from his experience assisting Fowler is the need to “make relationships.”

“It’s teaching people to be better people,” Clark said.

Fowler grew up in Clayton County and graduated from North Clayton High School. He earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Georgia and was a member of UGA’s Georgia Redcoat Marching Band. 

He earned a master’s degree from Ball State University in Indiana before beginning his career in education as a middle school teacher in Stephens County in north Georgia in the early 1990s. 

He moved on to become assistant band director at Salem High School in Rockdale County before taking over a fledgling band program at Eastside in 1996.

Since then, he led the band through halftime performances over the past 26 football seasons; directed it in countless marching band competitions; and oversaw thousands of students’ trips with the band for performances in Hawaii, Canada, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

In addition, he volunteered in the community with the Community Band and helped create such unique holiday events as the annual Tuba Christmas performance in Porterdale.

He also has served as an advisor to the Georgia Department of Education Fine Arts Standards Committee, served as the National Band Association’s Georgia chairperson, and is currently serving as a mentor teacher for the Association. 

Fowler said he already has begun work as executive director of the GMEA, which promotes and supports music education in Georgia and organizes such events as All-State Band, All-State Chorus, All-State Orchestra, Statewide Elementary Honor Chorus, and Sixth Grade Statewide Honor Chorus.

At Eastside, he had volunteered for GMEA as vice president for the All-State competition, District 4 chairperson and treasurer, and multiple organizer and host positions. 

He said some may view music as an extracurricular activity but he sees the arts as a vital part of an education.

“It could be that thing that causes that kid to stay in school,” Fowler said.

His daughter, Katie Beth, is a 2017 Eastside graduate who played for her father in The Pride of Eastside and followed him as a Redcoat Band member at UGA.

Some Pride of Eastside alumni marched in the Redcoat Band this past football season, including Fowler’s daughter and Emily Rose Hamby, Camille Hay, Wesley Rains, Duncan Jourdan and Sarah Schlueter, Fowler said.

They were at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis when UGA defeated Alabama for the 2022 NCAA FBS national championship.

In reference to any suggestions that he no longer wanted to lead the Community Band, Fowler said “it would be really hard to go cold turkey” and step away from being the director.

Fowler said his new role will allow him to put more energy into the Newton County Community Band’s annual scheduled of concerts.

“I will be a better director,” he said.