Don Robertson was born in Denver, Colorado in 1942. Robertson’s love of music permeated his childhood. Because of his interest in classical music, he became a student of Antonia Brico at the age of three and he studied piano with her for about two years. He also began collecting classical records and recordings of the popular music of his childhood.
Don’s parents took him to concerts of the Denver Symphony Orchestra and to supper clubs where he watched the local dance bands play. Young Don lived and breathed music and his great wish was to become a composer. Using little composition notebooks, he tried to write down the childish tunes that he created at the piano.
In 1948, when Don was six, his mother and father made a trip to Aspen, Colorado. There they watched composer Igor Stravinsky conduct the Aspen Summer Festival Orchestra. Young Don already knew Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite and looked forward to seeing the conductor conduct.
During the intermission, the youngster disappeared. His parents searched frantically, but to no avail. Finally, at the end of the intermission, as the musicians re-entered the stage area from their break, Don’s parents were relieved to see their little boy
Don and Dr. Antonia Brico
entering the stage area along with the musicians. Asking where he had been, Don replied to his worried parents: “Back stage talking with Mr. Stravinsky. He’s a really nice guy.”
As a child, Robertson created music in his head, humming symphonies in the far corners of the school playground while the other boys played ball. In 1953, when he was eleven years of age, he wired together various record players, his tape recorder, some microphines, and created a home radio station that broadcasted programs of his favorite music out into the neighborhood. The signal for his little radio station had a range of several blocks and used a small transmitter that his parents helped him finance and build. A year later, an impressed neighbor arranged for the twelve-year-old to have his own weekly DJ show on Denver radio station KFSC. The show was called “Teen Tunes.”
In 1956, Don Robertson saw Elvis Presley perform when he came to Denver with a traveling country-music tour. Elvis’ music prompted the young man to become interested in the guitar and soon he had saved enough money to buy a Silvertone electric guitar from Sears and Roebuck. In 1959, Don discovered the music of the great French jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and his interest in guitar blossomed into something more than just playing the chords of simple rock and roll songs.
Robertson graduated from South Denver High School in 1960. Because of his poor grades, he was unable to enter college and his father convinced him to join the Navy. After he had completed basic training in San Diego, he was assigned to the destroyer USS Los Angeles, home-ported in Long Beach, California. It was aboard this ship that the young man realized what had happened, that he had committed himself to being trapped aboard a ship for four years, unable to live the kind of life that he really felt drawn to. Up to this point, however, he had not given any consideration to the kind of life he was interested in living, and so the door was now open. Asking himself the question “What really matters in my life,” he was stimulated to reacquaint himself with the music that had permeated his early life. He realized that because he had been afraid of ridicule from fellow students in junior and senior high school, he had been denying himself the pleasure of listening to classical music for years. He began using his spare time to not only reacquaint himself with the music of his youth, but to further his knowledge. Soon he was involved in a full-time study of the fundamentals of music: orchestration, theory, counterpoint. Weekly trips to the Long Beach Public Library supplied him with the scores of the great classical works as well as textbooks that unlocked the keys to musical composition. Meanwhile, Don continued to practice and learn guitar and he formed a jazz combo aboard ship.
After a year of self study, Don Robertson began writing a symphonic work, using his guitar to pick out melodies and chords. He worked on this composition, which he called Moments Avant de Partir, for over a year. When he had completed the three-movement work, an interested acquaintance arranged for the finished composition to be played during a rehearsal by the Long Beach California Symphony Orchestra.
In addition to his musical epiphany, Don experienced another realization. Having been an almost completely disinterested student during his junior and senior high school days, he had accomplished very little reading in his life. But during this period of awakening, in addition rediscovering classical music, Don discovered literature, and he became an avid reader. Soon he was devouring great works of literature and he discovered the writers who would remain his favorites for the remainder of his life: James Joyce and Thomas Wolfe. He also started reading some of the great works poetry by poets such as Whitman and Verlaine. Then in 1963, while the ship was moored at Pearl Harbor, Don, walking along the Hawaiian beaches, realized that he was going to become not only a composer of music, but a writer as well.
In 1964, Don finally received his discharge from the Navy. Accepted into the University of Colorado, he moved to Boulder, Colorado where he formed a blues/jazz/light rock group. Called the Contrasts, the group became a sensation and after releasing two singles
Don, Rod and Lee: The Contrasts
(Summertime and On Green Dolphin Street), the group bought a van and moved on to Las Vegas where they began performing in the casino showrooms.
Dissatisfied with the glitzy Las Vegas lifestyle, Don left the Contrasts in 1965 and moved to Los Angeles where he enrolled in the Institute of Ethnomusicology at UCLA. At the institute, he begin a study of world music. He was happy to find great teachers there, and he began learning and performing music from China, Greece, Africa, Java, Persia, Bali and the Middle East. Also while in Los Angeles, he formed
a rock group that performed in clubs on Los Angeles’ famed Sunset Strip.
In addition to his studies at the Institute, Robertson began learning the North Indian classical musical instrument called the sitar with Harihar Rao as his teacher, and the Chinese classical instrument called the pipa with Lui Tsung Young. Meanwhile, he continued his studies of Western Classical Music, attending classes given by Henri Lazarof, Gardner Reed, and studying counterpoint privately with Leonard Stein, who had been a student of Arnold Schönberg.
Don Robertson playing the Chinese
Pipa in Venice, California in 1965.
In 1966, Don Robertson moved to New York City to pursue his dream of studying composition at the Julliard School of Music. There, he worked in the recording studios as a studio musician playing guitar and North Indian instruments on record albums and network television commercials. In addition to classes at Julliard, Don studied privately with composer Morton Feldman and Indian Maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan.
Under the tutelage of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Don began studying the drums of North Indian classical music called the tabla.
In 1968, Don Robertson authored an introductory instruction book on the tabla. Published by Peer-Southern International, the book was called Tabla: A Rhythmic Introduction to Indian Music. This instruction book was available in music stores around the world for over twenty years.
Don Robertson has continued to study the tabla to this day. He studied with Shankar Ghosh during 1968 and 1969 and has studied with Swapan Chaudhuri since 1986.
While living in New York City and studying with the two masters, one from the East (Ali Akbar Khan) and one from the West (Morton Feldman), Don Robertson made a startling discovery. He had found that there was a strong difference between the ancient music of India on one hand, and the modern music of John Cage and Morton Felman on the other. He noticed that the two types of music had completely different effects on him when he listened to them or played them. Soon he uncovered what he believed was the foundation chord for negative harmony. Just as there are chords that comprise the foundation for concordant harmony in music (the major and minor chords), he discovered that there was a foundation for disharmonious music as well: a four-note chord that he named the duochord. Realizing that the then-current style of composing classical music, the style that he was himself composing in, was disharmonious and that he had for several years been composing music that was based upon this four-note negative chord, he gave up composition altogether and discontinued his studies with Morton Feldman.
Meanwhile, during his second year in New York, Don was offered a contract to record for MGM Records. He put together a band and began rehearsing. The resulting highly experimental group blended Western, Eastern and Middle Eastern classical music with rock and jazz, and performed several songs that were precursors to today’s heavy metal music. When Don’s MGM producer heard these songs, he was so upset that his face turned red and he stomped out of the room. Soon, however, Don was signed to another major record label: Mercury, featured as a part of the new Limelight subsidiary.
San Francisco producer Abe “Voco” Kesh had heard Don’s guitar work on an album that Don had participated on for Folkways Records and he liked it. Abe had just produced a hit record with another guitar player, Harvey Mandel, and was ready to produce Don’s Mercury album. Don moved to San Francisco to work with Abe and to produce what would become one of the first albums of the new age genre. Called Dawn, the 1969 album explored what Don had discovered in New York City: the difference between positive and negative music. Don introduced music based upon the duochord in Dawn, and contrasted that with highly positive music performed on a zither.
Don Robertson’s 1969 Album Dawn
In 1970, Don Robertson embarked upon a new musical course that focused on discovering the connection between spirituality and music, focusing on music that has a positive influence. He felt that a spiritual essence could be found in great music of all times and cultures, and that it gave to music its greatest purpose: the ability to uplift and heal. He embarked upon an intense study of spirituality in Western classical music that began with very old music — Gregorian chant, and extended to music of the present time. Don wrote his first article about positive and negative music in a book that he published in 1970 called the Kosmon. He then spent most the 1970s as a brother in a San Francisco-based spiritual order called the Holy Order of MANS. During the later part of the decade, he began lecturing to groups in the San Francisco area about the effects of positive and negative music.
New Age Music
In 1980, Don Robertson formed his own record label, DBR Music, and began composing music and releasing albums using synthesizers and acoustic instruments.
He produced six albums during the course of the next seven years and his music found its way onto hundreds of radio stations across America and in Europe, Malaysia, Finland, Sweden, and Australia and was a part of the growing new age music genre.
Meanwhile, Don Robertson gave a number of concerts and produced a number of seminars that dealt with the healing effects of music. The pinnacle of this activity was in 1981 when he, along his present wife, Mary Ellen and their friend Norman Miller, organized three-day long seminars that used
music, color and art to bring attendees into states of spiritual realization.
After moving to Colorado in 1984, Don was becoming increasingly unhappy with the direction that new age music had been taking since its discovery by the major record labels. In 1989 he decided to abandon recording music altogether. Instead he turned to writing two classical compositions, one for orchestra and the other a string quartet. In 1994, he completed Kopavi for orchestra and chorus. This orchestral work is a
ballet that is based upon concepts of spirituality. The term Kopavi itself is a Hopi word that refers to a spiritual center in the human body called the crown chakra.
In 1996, he began composing his Southern Wind string quartet. During this period, he was also working as a full-time computer consultant and he was living in Richmond, Virginia where he worked with the Department of Motor Vehicles, helping them design and implement software and install new computers and a new network and website. During the mid-1990s, he managed to write his one-and-only computer book, Accessing Transport Networks, that was published by McGraw-Hill.
Don Robertson is currently living in the Southeastern U.S. where he has been able to personally explore his interest in gospel music, both black and white. This music is a very active musical genre in this section of the United States.
A page from the score for Kopavi
Dovesong International and the DoveSong Foundation
In 1997, Don Robertson and his wife Mary Ellen teamed up to form DoveSong International, dedicated to the production, education and creation of positive music and visual media. In 1998, Don built a new home studio and began recording music again, his first new album in over ten years was called Keys was released on the DoveSong label in 2000.
In 2002, the DoveSong Foundation, Inc., a non-profit organization, was created to further the work with positive music and visual media, visit the foundation’s website at www.dovesong.com. This website is dedicated to education concerning positive music and is visited by over a thousand people from all over the world each day.