January 4, 2008 in City

Beloved music teacher slain

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Photo courtesy of Larry Pittman photo

Mark Williams conducts during a 2006 rehearsal. Williams’ son was arrested in Bellingham in his stabbing death. Photo courtesy of Larry Pittman
(Full-size photo)

Spokane’s music scene was shocked Thursday to learn of the tragic loss of one of its most influential members.

Mark Williams, 52, who composed and arranged music taught to school bands nationwide, died Thursday of stab wounds the Bellingham Police Department said were inflicted by his 24-year-old son, Brian.

Williams’ wife, Connie, also was attacked at the couple’s Bellingham home and remains in satisfactory condition at the city’s St. Joseph’s hospital, according to police and hospital officials.

“If you talk to any middle school band director in the country, they’d know who Mark Williams was,” said Larry Pittman, board president for the Spokane British Brass Band, which Williams had conducted since 1999 and belonged to since its inception. Williams also had performed with the Spokane Symphony, Spokane Civic Theater, Spokane Jazz Society and the 560th Air Force Band.

Williams was due back in Spokane on Tuesday to help the British brass band prepare for an upcoming festival in Bellevue. The couple had moved from Spokane last year to be closer to their children, because a grandchild was on the way, friends and colleagues said.

“He was going to be a grandpa,” Pittman said. “He just said, ‘Sorry, guys, family’s coming first.’ He and his wife, Connie, they were just looking forward to being grandparents.”

Williams worked full-time for Alfred Publishing Co., composing and arranging music for school bands and orchestras. He had more than 200 published works to his credit, according to his company biography. He traveled across the country presenting clinics and workshops for band directors, teaching them to teach the music.

“This ripple effect will be felt throughout the whole nation,” said Dave Weatherred, visual and performing arts coordinator for Spokane Public Schools.

“The band book that every kid across the country learns out of – he was one of the three co-authors of that book,” said Verne Windham, program director for Spokane Public Radio and conductor of the Spokane Youth Orchestra. “For every level of music-making, Mark was deeply involved in making good music.

“It was far from an abstract job for him. It was a way of life.”

Jerry Olson, chief engineer for Spokane Public Radio and a board member of the brass band, said Williams had a talent for taking music designed for a 100-piece band that was ridiculously hard to learn and making it easy and fun for kids to play.

“He was very good at that,” Olson said. “He was one of the nicest, most sensitive guys you’d ever want to know.”

Williams was also the “go-to” guy to whom Craig Volosing turned when a Broadway show came to town and needed pit musicians. Volosing contracts orchestras to back up major shows, and Williams had versatility; among the instruments on which he was proficient were the tenor sax, flute, clarinet, oboe and English horn.

“He could play so many of the woodwind instruments and play them well,” Volosing said. “I really respected him so much for that willingness to give it a try even though it was an instrument he didn’t keep up his chops on. I’d ask him, ‘Mark, would you do it?’ and he’d say, ‘Yeah, I’ll put the time in, I’ll get ready.’

“He was really an asset to the community,” Volosing said.

After graduating from Shadle Park High School, Williams earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Eastern Washington University in 1977.

He went to work for Spokane Public Schools as an elementary school band teacher, remaining until about 1989, school officials said. He earned his master’s degree in education from EWU in 1986, according to school records.

Friends and colleagues said they didn’t know the nature of Williams’ relationship with his son, Brian, but they made reference to problems.

“He was always concerned about him,” said Kit Cutler, band manager for the Spokane British Brass Band. “It was almost a relief when he found out about the mental illness and that medication would make him better. He was trying to help him be in college and make something of himself.”

Bellingham police went to the Williams home shortly after 1 a.m. Thursday, after Connie Williams called 911, a news release said. Police said an argument may have begun when Brian Williams was awakened by his father to take medications, the Bellingham Herald reported.

Connie Williams told investigators that her son stabbed her when she tried to break up a fight between her husband and son. She could see that Mark Williams had been stabbed several times in the chest. She said she wrestled one knife away from her son, then ran from the house to call for help. Brian Williams got another knife from the kitchen and continued his attack on his father, police said. Mark Williams was able to grab the knife from his son but not before he was stabbed multiple times.

Brian Williams was arrested on suspicion of murder in the second degree and assault in the first degree, the police news release said.


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