William Johnson Retirement
By William Johnson
I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you—colleagues, former students and friends—for making these past 43 years of my life joyful, meaningful, rewarding and exciting. I especially want to thank you for the many kind and thoughtful messages via mail and e-mail, since it was announced in the last Soundboard that I would be retiring at the end of this academic year.
When “Davy” Davidson picked me up at the airport that hot day in April 1966, he said “We have interviewed three people for this job and we didn’t like any of them—and we probably won’t like you, either.” I knew then that I was not in familiar territory. I had never been to California and I was only 26 years old with no college teaching experience. Why would they even think of hiring me for this job? I don’t know how much they liked me by the end of the day, but they did tell me that I would be Cal Poly’s next band director. I was thrilled.
I had come from two very powerful university band programs: Indiana University and the University of Michigan. I immediately set out to turn the Cal Poly Band into the West Coast’s version of these band programs. Cal Poly had 7,000 students at the time and there were 20 returning band members, making a total of 50 band members counting the freshmen. There was just one band that marched and played concerts in 1966-67. Hardly a Big-Ten band program, but it was so much fun!
Teaching is tough, but the rewards are tremendous. One day, out of frustration with an assistant drum major, I sat the student down in my office and told him to number a sheet of paper from one to ten. I then proceeded to tell him ten things that he would have to do in life in order to be successful. I just made them up on the spot and he wrote them down. Many years later, while on tour the former student invited me to dinner. During dinner, he opened his billfold and took out a tattered sheet of paper and said that he had read it many times and credited the ten things listed for his enormous success. That’s how teachers get paid.
I am sure you are all aware of the extraordinary accomplishment of the Cal Poly Bands over the years. Dr. Robert E. Kennedy, former President of Cal Poly, once said to the faculty, “What can we build if we work together?” I immediately adopted that statement as the cornerstone of the philosophy of the Cal Poly Bands and watched our students in amazement as they built the program that we have today. I am so very proud of them. Cal Poly will begin a new era next fall with its new Director of Bands. Associate Director of Bands Christopher Woodruff, and Assistant Marching Band Director Len Kawamoto will continue in their positions.
This is a very challenging year for me and, in turn, for the 250 members of our Mustang Band, Wind Orchestra and Wind Ensemble. It’s challenging because we want to make this year a milestone. The “Pride of the Pacific” stunned the people in Spanos Stadium last fall during their final halftime performance. Our “band marching” was powerful and gripping and the audience responded to it. When we perform our season concert finale in Harman Hall on June 5, former students Anna Binneweg and John Astaire will represent all of my former students. Anna, a professional orchestra conductor in the Washington, D.C., area and John, just finishing his doctorate in percussion performance at Indiana University, will lead the Wind Ensemble in Joseph Schwantner’s “Concerto for Percussion.” We will have a reception afterward for friends and alumni. We will do the same on June 22 in the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. I do hope that many of you will attend one or both of these events.
What am I going to do? I can tell you that I will not be retiring. I have six grandchildren and another one on the way. I will still be the Musical Director of the San Luis Obispo Wind Orchestra and up to my eyeballs in work with the World Association for Symphonic Bands and Ensembles (WASBE). World Projects International Corporation has designs for my suddenly found freedom from daily classes and I will be assisting Clif Swanson in raising funds for the Music Department. I will also begin to smell the roses
The Music Department is putting together a memory book for Professor William Johnson.
Share your fond memories, anecdotes and well-wishes, and they will be presented to Bill (“J”) after his final Cal Poly concert June 5.
Make a memory book submission!