Ernest Williams School Touched Many West Virginians
"Notes da Capo" by John L. Puffenbarger
If you were a musician, especially a brass player, living in West Virginia during the 1930s and wanted to further your music education at an outstanding school, which one would you choose? Several West Virginians chose the Ernest Williams School of Music, located at 153 Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn, New York.
Prior to founding the school, Ernest S. Williams toured with the John Philip Sousa Band during its 1901 European tour and, that same year, became soloist and first cornetist with the 13th Regiment Band at Ontario Beach. In 1904, he founded his own publishing business, the catalog of which included E.E. Bagleys "National Emblem March" well as many other important works for band.
According to historian Laura E. Drake, Williams continued his successful performing career in 1917 as soloist with the Patrick Conway Band. He later played first trumpet in Victor Herbert’s Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Williams founded the Ernest Williams School of Music in 1923, which remained open until his death in 1945. The school's curriculum emphasized artistry and technique in band, orchestral, and choral performance. Solo performance was also stressed, and it was not unusual for students to receive several private lessons per week.
The Ernest Williams Music Camp was established near Saugerties, New York. Parkersburg High School bandmaster George Deitz sent up to six students to this camp each summer. Camp instructors included Erik Leidzen, Robert Hoffman, Leonard B. Smith, Ernest Williams, and Williams' brother, Jan.
West Virginia Wesleyan music professor Lawrence Kingsberry invited several faculty members from the Earnest Williams Music Camp to teach at Wesleyan’s summer music
camp, which offered band, orchestra, and private lessons. Past WVMEA president Saul Fisher was a young clarinetist when he attended a Wesleyan summer music camp and heard, for the first time, a "real' clarinet sound. Fisher stated, "It was the first time I ever heard a clarinet sound the way it was supposed to, and it inspired me to work hard to duplicate that sound.' He later studied clarinet at Juliard with Jan Williams.
Well-known music merchant Fred Ross attended the Ernest Williams school in 1938. He boarded at the school and worked in the dining room and performed in the school's band and orchestra. He said that Williams was a nice gentlemen, but that he was also very demanding. Ross stated, "Mr. Williams understood if a person made an honest mistake while playing, but he became very upset if a performer made a careless mistake. He sometimes would tap the person on the head with his baton'
The Ernest Williams Symphonic Band traveled to West Virginia and performed a concert in the Parkersburg High School Auditorium on Friday, April 22,1938. During the concert, Williams surprised Fred Ross by asking him to play a clarinet solo. Since Ross had been playing alto saxophone in the concert, he had to ask the music custodian to get his clarinet from the bus. After taking a couple of minutes to warm up, Ross played "Concertino for Clarinet" by von Weber. Ross later remarked, "One always had to be prepared when playing for Mr. Williams.' Other West Virginians in Williams' band included Frank Dodd, horn; William Brooks, clarinet; and Harold Eberhardt.
Frank Schroder was another West Virginian who attended the Ernest Williams School. Because the school did not offer a degree in music, Schroder returned to West Virginia and graduated from West Virginia Wesleyan College. He became band director at Buckhannon-Upshur High School and, in 1950, accepted the position as director of the Big Red Band in Parkersburg.