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Retired band conductor celebrates 90th birthday
Director emeritus of the Sounds of the Sawnee Concert Band still picks up his baton
0604-Band WEB
William Prescott, director emeritus of the Sounds of the Sawnee Concert Band, looks at photos from his many years with the community band. He recently celebrated his 90th birthday with the group. - photo by CRYSTAL LEDFORD

Sounds of Sawnee jazz band concert
Time: 2 p.m.
Date: Sunday, June 9
Place: Mega Mart, 2275 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville

The Sounds of Sawnee Concert Band recently surprised one of its longest standing members with a birthday celebration.

This wasn’t just any birthday, however.

William Prescott, who has been an active part of the community band for more than 30 years, marked his 90th in late April with cake and a surprise party thrown by bandmates.

That was appropriate since music has been a major part of Prescott’s life.

Holding a doctorate degree in music education and conducting, he spent his career working with students. First, he was at the University of Arizona, from which he received his Ph.D., and later with high school students in Fulton and Gwinnett counties. He retired in 1988 from North Gwinnett High School, where he worked many years as the band director.

Prescott, who plays the flute and has published several books about conducting, said he decided to go into music as a career in high school. He still has a photo of his high school band director, John Ruby, on the wall of his home office.

“He was the one who got me started and pushed me into a career in music,” Prescott said. “I don’t know what I would have done otherwise.

“My mother wanted me to be a lawyer, but John got his way,” he said jokingly.

Prescott and his wife, Helen, moved to Forsyth County about 35 years ago. Not long after that, Prescott became involved with the Sounds of the Sawnee Concert Band.

“I found out they had a community band here and the community band was pretty good,” he said. “They had a good conductor and so forth and I just, by accident, decided I would go and listen to one of their rehearsals.”

About a month later, the then-conductor stepped down and Prescott was asked to take over. He served in the post for 17 years.

Today, he holds the title of director emeritus of the group, still on occasion picking up the baton of conducting. On Monday nights, you can find him at the group’s weekly rehearsals. He’s quick to compliment his fellow musical mates.

“It’s quite a good band today,” he said. “It’s got a lot of top flight players in it.”

He praised community bands such as Sounds of Sawnee because they allow musicians to keep up their skill set.

“So often people play in the high school band and then they just put their instrument away in a closet and never get it out,” he said. “Bands like this are wonderful because they give musicians an outlet to keep playing.”

Harold Titus, the band’s president, said he and others in the 70-member group are proud to have Prescott’s experience and knowledge.

“It’s a pleasure knowing him,” Titus said. “He has probably more musical knowledge than almost anybody in the area.”

Alice Bryan, the group’s music director, called him a “tremendous resource.”

“A lot of the literature that we play, in his academic career, he has actually met or knew personally a lot of the composers and conductors,” she said. “A lot of what he directs, he knows the score by memory.”

Titus said the band, which is open to new members and doesn’t require auditions, is fortunate to have Prescott as its director emeritus, a title only he holds.

“We as a band feel honored to have him in our group,” Titus said. “We’ve got somebody that probably no other community band in the country has.

“He is definitely a very special guy.”