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Billy Delano Brawn - Class of 2018

Billy (Bill) Delano Brawn, born March 11, 1934, was destined to be a teacher. Both of his parents, Walter and Mildred Brawn, were well-known teachers in the Goose Creek Consolidated School District in Baytown, Texas.

Bill's journey with music started in seventh grade at Horace Mann Junior High School in Baytown, Texas. The band director happened to be a violinist that taught slide position, overlooking notes and tone. From there he attended Robert E. Lee High School from 1949 - 1952 where he participated, not only in band, but in sports as well. Bill excelled in sports compared to his limited musical ability. He was on the high school baseball team for three years and, after graduating, went on to play semi-professional baseball for five years.

With the intent of being an automotive engineer, Bill attended Lee Junior College. At that time, his only exposure to music consisted of the radio and the WWL Dixieland broadcast from the Roosevelt Hotel out of New Orleans. Soon he realized that mathematics was not one of his strongest subjects. As a result, Bill, with the help of additional band students, started a dixieland band to play at the junior college basketball games. He came to the realization that music was his path and what he should major in.

In 1954, Bill transferred to Sam Houston State Teacher’s College. There, he changed his major and entered the music program. To say Bill struggled through his courses would be an understatement. Being a so-called trombonist, Bill's finger dexterity was little to none and reading four parts at a steady tempo was asking for the moon. Somehow, he passed his piano barrier. He knew he passed only because they did not want to have to hear it again. Bill was sure the faculty and students considered him the least likely to succeed, all except a voice major, Pattie. In 1957, after endless practicing and studying, Bill earned his degree, a Bachelor of Science in art. Soon after graduating, Bill and Pattie were married. With his wife’s support and the support of their two children, Billie and Kelly, eight years later, Bill obtained his Master of Education degree from Sam Houston State Teacher’s College.

The first real job Bill had was at Clifton High School. He had to learn how to become a band director, make up a marching show, teach beginners, program music, fill out entry sheets and other tasks that were not touched on in college. Realizing how little he knew about teaching, Bill went to every clinic possible. More importantly, he sat and listened to some of the more experienced directors talk about common problems and how they tackled them. He embraced the fact that he needed to find out how to teach the students and not cheat them out of a good musical experience.  During his six-year tenure, the band grew from forty-eight to eighty students and the stage band placed first in their class at Brownwood Stage Band Contest. The students were so taken by Bill they dedicated the 1964 high school yearbook to him.

From 1964 through 1967, Bill taught at Midway High School in Waco, Texas. There, his band earned multiple sweepstakes in marching, concert and sight-reading. To help set his band apart from others, Bill had a vision of expanding the literature for marching bands. The most prominent response by a judge was criticism; the band needed to play standard marches along with maintaining the traditional marching routines.

In keeping with his love for jazz and dance music, Bill put together the Midway High School stage band which rehearsed before school. As luck would have it, one of his trombone players had to miss a rehearsal one morning. When asked why, the student explained he had to stay with his younger brother and get him to school. The boy noted his father, Johnny Gimble, was going to Nashville to play back-up for Johnny Cash. Indeed, that was a humbling experience. Midway High School Stage Band would take second for a year, followed by first place for two years.

The year 1967 brought Bill to Pasadena Independent School District as the assistant band director to Fred Baetge at Sam Rayburn High School. This was his first job as an assistant and his band took sweepstakes. Finishing the school year out, Bill was offered a head position to open a new school, J Frank Dobie High School in 1968. That school would be his home for the next seventeen years.

Dobie's band started with sixty-four students. That year the band went to marching contest with only forty-eight students on the field. At the time there was not a classification for new schools to compete in. The University Interscholastic League would not allow Dobie to go as a second band. Having to perform around much larger bands, one of the judge's remarked that this was a small band for a 4-A high school. As the years progressed, the band grew to over two hundred members, earning multiple sweepstakes and ninth place at state marching contest. In 1973, the band became an Explorer Scout Post and was invited to the annual convention in Washington D.C. to perform. The trip was deemed one of the group’s most educational experiences as history came alive. With the overwhelming support of the Dobie band parents, Bill was instrumental in setting up the first Drum Corp International competition in Houston at Rice Stadium hosted by Dobie High School band. This was later to become a stop on what is now the DCI southern tour venue.

As with most band directors, they are often one of earliest teachers to get to school and park in the faculty parking lot’s closest spaces.  One morning, Bill noticed his and Jim Lemmond's name painted on the concrete parking bumpers in the first couple of spaces. He didn’t think much of it. A couple of days later, Bill was called down to principal's office and very sternly asked what they were doing with their names painted on the parking spots. It turned out that some of the band students had painted Bill’s and James’ names on the concrete and a faculty member complained thinking the two directors were getting preferential treatment. The names were quickly removed.

Paul Yoder was invited by Pasadena I.S.D. to conduct his compositions in a concert with all four area high school bands. He was to spend approximately thirty minutes in rehearsal with each band.  After an hour and a half, Mr. Yoder had to be pulled away from Dobie’s rehearsal. That could have meant, one, they needed the practice, or two, he enjoyed the rehearsal. Approximately two weeks later, the band received a letter of invitation to play at play Mid-West in Chicago. Unfortunately, Dobie’s band was not allowed to go due to the district’s policy regarding out of state trips.

Bill was fortunate to have several outstanding assistants. James Lemmond was instrumental in helping the development of the wind ensemble when the program reached maturity in the early seventies. The arrangement of smaller groups, fifty-five to sixty-five players, gave many students the opportunity to play the solo and upper parts. More importantly, it developed not only their musical ability, but responsibility and leadership.

In 1976 Bill programmed Fisher Tull’s “Sketch’s on A Tudor Psalm.” Dr. Tull was asked to clinic the band for preparation to contest. He was so impressed with Bill’s attention to detail, Dr. Tull offered him the position of marching band director at Sam Houston State University. Of course the eight years of being second band conductor under Dr. Ralph Mills for the Sam Houston State Band Camp showed what Bill could accomplish with patience and quality techniques. What an honor this was to be asked.

Bill taught at Brazoswood High School between 1984 through 1986. In his short time there, Bill maintained first divisions and sweepstakes. The marching band placed eleventh at the UIL state marching contest. The concert band would go on to win Grand Champion at the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.

The last eight years of teaching before retiring in 1994, led Bill to Lamar Consolidated Independent School District. He took a position at Lamar Junior High School and one year later moved to B. F. Terry High School. His bands were consistent with first divisions in marching and concert. Other band achievements saw first divisions at Six Flags, best band at the McNeese College Contest and the 1989 Grand Ole Opry Contest Grand Champion. As a token of appreciation, the students acquired a brick from the Grand Ole Opry and had it painted with 1989 Grand Ole Opry Land Grand Champions. To date, the brick still sits in his curio cabinet at home.

After retirement, Bill was asked to help part time with the East Bernard High School band. He assisted with the marching and concert bands, writing music and consulting on marching routines. In 1999 and 2001, the band won first place in marching at the UIL region and area contests and sixth at the state marching contest. When he was not occupied with the high school program, Bill assisted with concert work and taught beginners at East Bernard Junior High School. The sixth-grade band beginners won the Schlitterbahn contest twice.

During his life, Bill has made it important to be member of numerous organizations. Those which he has been associated with are: TMEA, TBA, MENC, TMAA, TSTA, Lone Star Symphonic Band, and St. Mark's Episcopal Church.

Bill’s teaching philosophy was to enrich students not only in music, but everyday life skills. Teamwork and support of others were held in high reverence. Personal responsibility and dedication to work would issue the way for success.

Bill is still actively participating in music: You can find him singing in the church choir, playing trombone in two bands and conducting two others. The 40’s-50’s style dance band, which is part of the Lone Star Symphonic Band, performs at retirement facilities around the Houston area. To watch the excited patrons move on the dance floor with canes, walkers and wheelchairs, is as rewarding as watching band students light up after playing an outstanding performance. To this day, Bill’s thousands of former students, as well his two daughters Billie Wilbanks and Kelly Guess
, and two granddaughters, Amber Wilbanks-Sambile and Kristen Wilbanks-McMillan, share their love of music the way Mr. Brawn always taught them – through unwavering support and compassion.

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