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Tri-Valley Hero: Williams keeps Pleasanton band busy

Bob Williams learned about music when his mother Hannah Louise, a school pianist, taught him how to play the piano. Now 81 and the conductor of the Pleasanton Community Concert Band, he's not about to stop.

"As long as I can stand up straight and wave both arms, I'll be at the front of this wonderful band," Williams said.

To Pleasanton's good fortune, that could be quite a few more years. Williams swims and walks every day and says he's remarkably healthy. Hannah was 99 years old when she died last year.

Williams has been with the band since it started 38 years ago when it was formed to celebrate the country's bicentennial. From a group of 35 musicians, the all-volunteer band has grown to 70 members although only 40 or 50 play at most of the concerts. These include performances at Memorial Day and Veterans Day observances, at Farmers Market and at the Firehouse Arts Center, where the band will hold its annual free Christmas concert at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 1.

Although known these days as the Pleasanton band's conductor, Williams was a teacher for 22 years after graduating from Westchester State Teachers College near Norristown, Pa., where he grew up. He'd still be teaching (or would be a retired teacher) in the Oakland school system if a budget crisis there in 1979 hadn't caused the district to cancel all elementary and middle school music programs.

Suddenly out of work, he mentioned his plight that Thursday night at one of the regular practice sessions of the recently formed Pleasanton Concert Band when fellow musician and former Pleasanton mayor Bob Butler suggested he apply for an opening at the General Electric research lab on Vallecitos Road, just south of Pleasanton, where Butler worked.

Williams was hired and embarked on a second career in metallography for another 17 years. All the while, Williams and Butler, who is the band's percussionist, made the Thursday night practices and frequent concerts, including 14 performances this year.

Williams honed his music skills after college during a two-year stint with the Army, assigned to train musicians at Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C., and then sending them on their way to serve in Army bands at military bases around the world. When offered the chance to lead one of those bands within the next six months if he re-enlisted for four years, Williams opted to take the California opening with the Oakland school district, where he had his own band in just six weeks.

The Army bands, started in the early 1800s, are all brass, which is the formula for the Pleasanton Concert Band as well. Violins and other string instruments don't mesh well with bands like Pleasanton's, which is similar to the town square bands that used to play in small towns across America.

But then the band Williams conducts doesn't march either. It did once at the request of a Livermore parade organizer "and we were a disaster," Williams recalls. "We ended up marching down First Street in Livermore single file because no one could stay in any kind of a formation. The band members told me after that experience, never again!"

That's when "Concert" was inserted in the band's name, so no one would think otherwise.

For Williams, conducting the Pleasanton Community Concert Band is his main activity. His wife Bernadine died on Christmas Eve seven years ago. His son Rob hosts a talk radio show from 5-10 a.m. weekday mornings on Sacramento station KFRQ, 92.5 on the FM dial, a program that Rob owns and is also aired on stations in Modesto, Fresno,

Williams and other band members will take a break after their Dec. 1 concert, resuming Thursday night practices in January for another year of community performances that start with the Veterans Hospital in Livermore in January and the Masonic Hall in Union City in February.

"The year 2014 is shaping up to be even busier than this one, and that's good," Williams said.

Hero FYI

* Bob Williams was 5 years old when his mother Hannah taught him to play the piano.

* At 81, he now plays multiple instruments and is the conductor of the Pleasanton Community Concert Band organized 38 years ago.

* He taught music in Oakland schools for 8-1/2 years, worked at GE's research lab on Vallecitos Road for another 17 years.

* His wife Bernadine died seven years ago. Their son Rob hosts a talk radio show weekday mornings, aired on stations in Sacramento, Modesto, Fresno, Reno, Red Bluff and Anchorage, Alaska.

* In the Army, Williams trained musicians at Fort Jackson, then sent them on their way to serve in Army bands at military bases around the world.

* Pleasanton Community Concert Band played at 14 different events this year, with final performance of year on Sunday, Dec. 1, in the Firehouse Arts Center.

* Williams recalls only time all-volunteer Pleasanton band marched was a "disaster." That's when "Concert" was inserted as part of its name.

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