Percussive Arts Society

In Memoriam: William “Bill” Platt

Bill PlattWilliam “Bill” Platt, a longtime member of the Cincinnati Symphony and teacher at Ohio University and the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, died at age 77 on Sept. 5, 2022, after a battle with lung disease.

William H. Platt was born on November 10, 1944 in Cincinnati, Ohio, and was a graduate of Milford High School. At age 4, he became enamored with the sound of marching band drums. This led to a lifelong dedication to the mastery of an endless array of percussive instruments. Bill studied percussion at the Eastman School of Music, graduating in 1966. After being drafted that same year, he won a position in the United States Army Band. For three years, Bill performed with his Army bandmates at many White House and Washington events. He became part of a lifelong brotherhood of fellow musicians in that brief but formative period.

Following his honorable discharge in 1969, Bill returned to Cincinnati to continue his music studies at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. While there, he met Kazuko Tsuneda, a fellow CCM student, and they married in 1971. Also in 1971, Bill began his distinguished career as principal percussionist with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. His tenure spanned nearly 40 years, and in addition to regular performances at Music Hall, the CSO and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra took him to some of the greatest halls in the world — from Suntory Hall in Japan to Carnegie Hall in New York. He appeared on over 100 recordings, including multiple snare drum showcases, such as his performance of “Bolero.” He was the featured soloist for the orchestra’s world premiere performances of Frank Proto’s “Concertino for Percussion and Strings,” and was also featured on the premiere recording of the work for Red Mark Records. He was also a featured soloist for Proto’s “The New Seasons — Sinfonia Concertante for Tuba, Percussion, Flutes and Strings” and “Three Pieces for Percussion and Orchestra,” and was the solo drummer in the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra’s recording of Proto’s “A Portrait of George.”

Platt also performed and recorded extensively with double-bass virtuoso François Rabbath, including the world premiere recordings of Proto’s “Concerto No. 2 for Double Bass and Orchestra” (solo drummer), “Carmen Fantasy for Double Bass and Orchestra” (solo percussion), and “Fantasy for Double Bass and Orchestra” (solo doumbec).

Platt was a faculty member at Ohio University and the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati. He taught masterclasses and was an interim instructor at the University of Southern California. He served on the PAS Board of Advisors from 2014–20 and the PAS Symphonic Committee from 2011–17, and was a performing member of the PAS Symphonic Emeritus Percussion Section at PASIC 2015.

After retiring in 2010, Bill continued to teach percussion, maintain his impressive collection of instruments, play golf, and spend time with his four grandchildren. 

Remembering Bill Platt
By Peter Erskine
Some years ago, Bill Platt was speaking with his sister-in-law, Sachiko, when she mentioned, “I’ve been meaning to tell you, my good friend Mutsuko is married to a drummer.” “What’s his name?” Bill asked. Sachiko answered, “I think it’s Peter or something.” Bill began putting more questions to Sachiko, like “Where does this Peter live?” and so on when, all of a sudden, Bill put 2 + 2 together and asked, “Is his last name ERSKINE?” She nonchalantly answered, “Yes, I think that’s his name.” Thus began a journey that eventually brought Bill and his wife Kazuko to a beachside cafe in Santa Monica where we met (along with my wife, Mutsy), and Bill and I both felt as though we’d met the brother we didn’t know we had (while our wives chatted away in Japanese).

What do drummers talk about when they share a brunch? DRUMS, of course, and teachers and schools and common friends and conductors and section-mates and the Percussive Arts Society — and probably some good old marimba gossip just for fun, too. Turned out Bill was a Rogers man at the time, as in “collector.” I told him about my mid-1960s Dyna-Sonic that had been found hanging on a large rusted nail in my father’s garage after he passed. That was my prize snare from when I was a freshman in high school. The shell was now pitted, it was missing many of its parts, and it was such a mess that birds had even nested in it (or, was such a mess because birds had nested in it). I had given up all hope for that drum but had not thrown it away. Bill suggested that I send it to him.

A few weeks later, there was a message on my telephone’s answering machine. “Hey, Pete. This is Bill. Did a little work on your drum; I think you might be pleasantly surprised. Let me know what you think. Take care! Bye!” The next day a box arrived from Cincinnati. When I opened it, I saw what appeared to be a brand-new Dyna-Sonic. “Huh?! This is amazing, but why would he send me a new…” and then I remembered one small but deep scratch that no amount of cleaning or buffing could hide. Could it be? Yes it could! This was MY drum. It was not elbow grease that brought this drum back to life. It was not Super Fine Grade #0000 steel wool. It was love.

Bill and I became inseparable at numerous PASICs, vintage drum shows, or at the University of Southern California, where he would teach on occasion. I visited some of Bill’s gigs with the symphony; he attended some of my recording sessions. We shared a lot of meals, a LOT of drum talk, and a lot of brotherly love. He also shared an infinite amount of drum knowledge and lore with me and my students — masterclasses for the kids, gentle yet authoritative direct advice for my hands. And his teaching style was just like the man himself: he always brought out the best in the other.

My favorite anecdote about Bill is the story he told about himself and a young guest conductor of the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, when the conductor began telling Bill how he should play something. Bill’s remark back to the maestro was, “Listen, Sonny, I’ve got underwear that’s older than you.” Not sure how the rest of the story goes, but that punchline is pretty good.

Bill had just finished working on a new signature symphonic snare drum with the design team at Tama before illness slowed him down. That drum, along with the hundreds of recordings he made over the years and the countless number of friends and students whose lives he touched, will serve as a fitting memorial for a life that was well-lived: a life dedicated to his family, to his music, and to his drums. RIP, brother.

Remembering Bill Platt
By Garwood Whaley
Bill joined the percussion section of the U.S. Army Band, “Pershing’s Own” in Washington D.C in the late ’60s, when I was already a member. We became instant friends and musical colleagues, spending three years together performing countless ceremonies, concerts and, with vivid memories, marching in President Nixon’s inaugural parade where we were pelted with firecrackers as a protest to the war in Vietnam. 

We remained friends for over fifty years. Dick Ecton (Juilliard), Glenn Luedtke (Peabody Conservatory), Bill (Eastman), and I (Juilliard) started an annual percussion-section reunion in memory of Vince Battisti, our beloved section leader; we called ourselves “Vince’s Boys.” The reunion turned into a monthly Zoom call where many former members joined the group. We were fortunate to be able to connect with Bill on a monthly basis and relive some of our cherished memories together.  

I will miss Bill’s political commentaries, sense of humor and friendship greatly. Rest in Peace, my friend.

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