Visalia music teacher Duane Weston found colorful joy in life

The Fresno BeeDecember 16, 2013 

Duane Weston, the band director at College of the Sequoias, picked up the phone. On the line was Link's Men's and Women's Wear, the storied Visalia clothing store.

The message: Have we got a pair of pants for you.

Mr. Weston, who died Saturday at 84 after a 61-year career as a Valley music educator, knew how to entertain an audience, from finessing the softest pianissimo in a concert piece to egging on a rowdy football crowd with the brassy roar of a marching band. For years, he proudly wore his bright blue and orange plaid pants -- the COS colors -- from Link's at home games, along with an orange jacket so vivid it could be seen from the other side of the field.

In a career that included 18 years as band director at Roosevelt High School and 15 years at COS teaching and directing various instrumental groups, Mr. Weston managed to hold on to the joy -- and good fun -- of making good music, having a profound influence on thousands of students along the way.

"He was a kid at heart," said Clint Ritchie, who in 1957 was one of Mr. Weston's first students at Roosevelt. "He loved to joke around. He was like one of the band members, but he still maintained discipline."

His love of teaching never stopped. After retiring in 1990 from COS, Mr. Weston taught GED students for 10 years at the Fresno County Jail. He taught music students twice a week at foothill elementary schools.

And for 16 years, he conducted the Clovis Community Band. His final concert was in May.

In 2005 he received a Horizon Award honoring his arts contributions from the Fresno Arts Council.

Born in Fresno in 1929, Mr. Weston grew up in Kern County on the massive DiGiorgio Farms, where he started picking cotton at age 9. Music was an important part of his life. His family even had an orchestra that played for special occasions in the Arvin and Bakersfield areas.

In a 1990 interview with The Bee, he described how he ended up playing percussion.

When he was 7, his older brother came home and told him, "You're the drummer in the school orchestra."

This surprised him, since he didn't play drums. But he bought his first set for $6 and joined the orchestra. He started playing the drums, too.

Timpani was his instrument of choice, and in the years to come, after a music degree and teaching credential at Fresno State, he would play with the Fresno Philharmonic and the Tulare County Symphony.

"Here in Fresno, if anyone needed a timpanist, they would call Duane," said his wife, Ann.

They were married for 63 years.

Mr. Weston had another career path for a while as well: professional baseball player. In 1949, after playing for Bakersfield High School and Bakersfield College, he signed a contract with the Chicago White Sox and played semipro ball for six seasons before devoting his energy to music.

Mr. Weston saw music as a way to expand the lives of students. Travel was important to him. He wanted his students to see more of the world. At Roosevelt in the late 1950s, he took the band to play at the newly opened Disneyland. Over the years he took the band to the Rose Bowl, the Sun Bowl, 12 professional football games, a goodwill tour to Mexico and the opening of the Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley.

"He touched so many lives," said Ritchie, now 71, who stayed in touch with his mentor. "Because of him, I became a teacher."

Ritchie, who now lives in the Sacramento area, traveled to Fresno for Mr. Weston's final Clovis Community Band concert. He brought the same trumpet he played in high school.

"Many of his students considered him like their father," his wife said. "He treated them with kindness. He was very funny. But when it came down to business, they had to snap to. They worked hard for him."

As for those infamous blue and orange pants: When he retired from COS, his students wanted to dispose of them in a spectacular way. They had to settle for a symbolic farewell instead.

His wife was adamant: "You're not going to burn those pants," she told her husband.

She still has them today.

Duane Weston

Born: June 21, 1929

Died: Dec. 14, 2013

Occupation: Music educator

Survivors: Wife Ann Weston, son Dwight Weston of Fresno, daughters Deborah Terry of Fresno and Deniece Vowel of Carmel, eight grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren

Services: pending

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6373, and @donaldbeearts on Twitter. Read his blog at

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