For more than 30 summers, Port Washingtonians have enjoyed the music of the Community Band under the able direction of William Fish. He said that he began playing in the Community Band when he first came to Port, and a few years later, when the director left, Fish became director, and has been doing it ever since. The director's job, of course, also includes recruiting, helping with fundraising, and many rehearsals. The Community Band plays at the John Philip Sousa memorial band shell at the town dock for five weeks every July. The year 2002 was the 36th season. Fish pointed out that the band shell concerts are "one of Port's longest traditions," adding, "They have kept the band tradition alive, staying to what it was built for."
Bill Fish is a man of widely diverse interests and talents, but his first love is music, and particularly teaching music to young people. He came here as a student teacher in 1958 from SUNY Potsdam, a college noted for its music education program. He said that at one time or another he has taught in just about all the schools in Port Washington. He has thoroughly enjoyed his years of teaching here, and has the highest regard for the other teachers and the students. "There are a lot of sharp, talented kids in this town," he said.
Out of his desire to provide the best learning tools possible, Fish has developed study sheets to complement the method books that the instrumental music students were using. Recently, he compiled these study sheets in a series of method books. The books are designed to be used as supplements to existing materials in elementary and middle schools, and will be "beta tested" in the Port Washington Schools this year. After testing, Fish plans to have the materials published. His methodology, as reflected in the materials, includes assuring that there is sufficient material provided for the average student to gain mastery of each module before moving on to the next level. "There's more music than you can ever use," he said. Simplicity is another keynote of his technique and of the materials. "Our pages are just music," he said, "no graphics to clutter the page." He commented that with most of the existing materials, "the pages are so heavily laden with graphics that you can hardly see the music." The books will consist of familiar melodies, but without titles, so that the student will have to play the piece to discover the melody. Fish is optimistic about the potential of the materials, saying, "I think it will quickly be proved that it is a more effective way to teach."
Bill Fish is also a prolific inventor. Not surprisingly, many of his inventions are music-related. The most recent project is an electronic string adjuster for stringed instruments. "With this, you shouldn't have to touch the pegs for a year," said Fish. The string adjuster is designed to interface with an electronic device that will enable the musician to walk up, put his or her instrument on the control pad, touch the strings once, and the device will automatically adjust all four strings at the same moment. "This is a blessing for a school orchestra, where 30 or 40 kids show up at once for a rehearsal," said Fish. One of his first inventions was an electronic metronome, which sold widely for about three years until larger companies copied it. Others included an electronic music synthesizer in modular form designed as a teaching tool, and a variety of electric guitar accessories, including a "phase shifter." One of his inventions, once featured on the Johnny Carson show, was a transistorized, battery-operated version of the theremin, an electronic musical instrument typically played by moving a hand between two projecting electrodes named after a Russian engineer and inventor.
One of Bill Fish's inventions led to a successful contracting business. He developed an airtight, leak-proof casement window, particularly useful in historic buildings. It turned out that when Fish's firm installed the windows, customers often asked them to do other work, and ultimately this led to a full-fledged general contracting business. After a number of years serving the community in this capacity, Fish decided to return to his first love, music education. He now teaches part-time in the Guggenheim School and part-time in Sea Cliff.
Although he has officially given up the contracting business, Fish gives generously of his time and skills. He oversaw the renovations of the old house on Carlton Street that St. Stephen's Episcopal Church purchased, which most likely would have been demolished had the church not bought and restored it. "I really enjoyed that," he said. "It is a very pretty structure and it was nice to save it and preserve its integrity as much as possible, to assist in making it rentable." He is also a key player in the acquisition of the church's new organ and the proposed re-design of the chancel. Fish is a constant source of advice to his friends and fellow parishioners, whether they are do-it-yourselfers or looking to hire a reliable tradesperson.
Bill Fish makes music whenever he can. He is a regular in the bass section of the St. Stephen's choir. He also enjoys playing trios with his family, playing clarinet with his wife Diane, a talented violinist and a music teacher in our local school system, and his daughter Catherine, who is also a violinist. He and Diane just returned from a music educator's conference, where, he said, "There were a number of opportunities to play, and I seized them eagerly."
Bill Fish is also an accomplished sailor. He and his family just returned from a visit to Cape Cod, where they sailed from Mattapoisett to Nantucket on a 38-foot sailboat.
In his "spare" time, Fish enjoys working on his computer. He uses a newly acquired software program, Print Music to transcribe a piece for the Community Band and for his students. He especially enjoys transcribing orchestral pieces for the band, admitting that he actually prefers orchestral music. At one point he even had a website that matched charter boats with those who wanted to charter them.
Fish credits his mother, "for making him practice," and the elementary school in Endwell, New York, where he grew up, for his early musical training. "I was playing the clarinet and singing two-part harmony in fourth grade," he said, "and by seventh grade we were singing four-part harmony." Port Washington is indeed fortunate to have this talented individual to educate our children and to make music for the community.