Dad was also very musical; he had learned to play half a dozen instruments at school and had a good singing voice. In those pre-television days our entertainment was homegrown: sitting around the piano in the evenings and singing together. When I was little, I'd stretch out on the worn, warm floorboards with my head under the piano stool and watch my father's feet on the pedals; for some reason that fascinated me. Our standard repertory was hymns, because my parents and my two older brothers formed the Presbyterian church choir; it had not even had one until Dad volunteered himself and his family. They rehearsed at home, and when Dick saw his mom, dad, and older brothers singing, he wanted to join in.
I didn't want to be left out, either, and tried to sing along with them as they practiced. At first I got black looks and demands to "hush up, Andy. We're trying to practice here." I'd let me shoulders sag and my head hang, stick out my bottom lip, and make my slow, mournful exit from the room, hoping that my dad would call me back and let me take part. It didn't happen, but the next day I'd be back, singing along until I got kicked out again. I used to vary my tactics. Sometimes I'd join in from the start and keep going until I was told to hush up; other times I'd sit silent in a corner while they sang the first couple of hymns, and then I'd join in, singing as quietly as possible. If any of my brothers cast an eye in my direction, I'd snap my mouth shut tight as a clam and put on a look of injured innocence.
Finally, when I was seven, I wore my dad down. He interrupted choir practice and said, "Andy, sing this verse on your own for me." When I had finished, my dad—never lavish with praise in case we got swelled-headed—just grunted, gave a brief nod, and then said, "All right, why don't you come and sit over here and practice with us?" From then on I was a full-fledged choir member.
The very first time he heard his four sons harmonize together, my dad became a man with a dream and a mission in life, convinced that we had a future as professional singers. The Williams Brothers were formed on the spot with my dad as manager, impresario, agent, PR man, and factotum. From that moment on, just like the main character in Death of a Salesman, my dad—the Willy Loman of Wall Lake—fulfilled his dreams through us. We all loved singing at home, in school, at church, or anywhere, and Dad encouraged, trained, and nurtured us, forever pushing us to practice harder and longer. He wasn't really a clichéd, pushy "showbiz" parent, but I think he genuinely believed that singing might be a passport for us out of Wall Lake, Iowa, getting us out of the rut and giving us the chance to improve our lives in a manner that would never be open to us if we stayed where we were. And he was very cunning in some of the ways he went about keeping us in line with his vision.