Ralph Anderson, Violin
There was a knock on the door one day in 1936 when Ralph Anderson was 9 years old. It was a salesman from the National Institute of Music and Arts offering music lessons. Door-to-door music sales? Now, you’re likely thinking: “Professor Harold Hill! Uniforms! The Think Method!” But, no, it was the real deal. Here’s what happened.
Ralph chose the violin and took lessons in an old house in Oakland, near the Grand Lake Theater. He also played at school, where they had “two fine conductors and a wonderful orchestra.” A fond memory from that time was being head of the traffic squad, blowing his whistle to stop the streetcars that used to run on Park Boulevard.
Ralph also joined the Weldonian Orchestra, a private orchestra with a couple hundred kids. They had smart uniforms (but unlike Professor Hill’s kids in uniforms, these kids could really play!). They performed all over, including at the 1939-1940 Golden Gate International Exposition and at the Scottish Rite Auditorium to raise money for the war effort. Soon after, however, the orchestra became the Weldonian Marching Band so they could march in parades and encourage patriotism. They no longer needed violins (hey, what could be more patriotic than a violin playing “Stars and Stripes Forever”??).
But Ralph continued playing, in Oakland’s Citywide Junior Orchestra, where the concertmaster was Nathan Rubin, who went on to become concertmaster of the Oakland East Bay Symphony. He also played on Buddha’s Amateur Hour on KFRC and in the high school orchestra, where he met Joanne, a member of the chorus. They performed together in musicals and Ralph conducted the orchestra for graduation ceremonies.
He went on to UC Berkeley where he got a degree in Industrial Engineering, while Joanne went to San Francisco State as a music major (once performing with the SF Opera chorus!). They married while Ralph was a sophomore in 1949—that’s 65 years of marriage! “I had two kids by the time I graduated, which made school just a little difficult,” and the violin was put aside for a bit.
Ralph worked for a year at Schlage Lock Company before taking over his father’s painting contract business where he spent his career. He and Joanne have four children—two flutists, a clarinetist and a drummer (daughter Beverly played flute with Prometheus for a few years)—and eight grandkids.
The violin reappeared and Ralph joined Prometheus in the 1960s, playing with our first conductor, Randy Hunt. He played with the Philharmonia and the Holy Names Orchestra under the baton of Sister Xavier. He eventually returned to Prometheus where his combined tenure is now 40 years.
Now that he’s retired, Ralph has just a few things to do in addition to playing with Prometheus. He’s now President of the Alameda County Historical Society and Vice President of the History Guild of the Oakland Museum of California. Meanwhile, Joanne is now renowned in Prometheus for her lemon bars (available during intermission, try one!). We’d love to have him for another 40 years with Prometheus—what do you say, Ralph?