Magical music man: Concert will honor local composer

Matt Doran also gifted with the wizardry of a magician

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian arts & features reporter



If you go

What: Lifetime Recognition Concert for Matt Doran.

Where: Northside Baptist Church, 5201 N.E. Minnehaha.

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 28.

Cost: Free.

On the Web

Local music lover Alan Hemenway has taken on the mission of preserving the legacy of his friend Matt Doran via YouTube videos. But there is no Doran YouTube channel, and the composer happens to share a name with an Australian movie star — so you’ll have to do some careful hunting to find the videos. Search “Matt Doran flute” or “Matt Doran composer” for starters.

Narod the Magician can still defy gravity. He shows off for visitors how he can make a ring climb a rubber band in a way that seems impossible.

Same man, different personality: Doran the Musician can make five flutes harmonize together. When those visitors arrive, he's bent over music manuscript paper at his desk, scribbling his ideas away.

Matt Doran has no particular destination in mind for this flute quintet, he said. Classical composition is a labor of love. In fact, a composer often will pay to have copies of a work made and distributed, he said. He rummaged around in his desk and pulled out an uncashed royalty check he received from a publisher — for the grand sum of $4.82.

"Most composers know they're never going to be paid," said Doran, who spent years teaching music at Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles. That was before he and his wife, Therese, moved to Hazel Dell in the mid-1990s because, she said, "we just wanted to get out of L.A."

She also thought her husband might become "a big fish in a small pond" in the local world of classical music, she said -- and he's certainly done that. Doran's creativity sparked in a big way when he arrived in Clark County and got to know people like Don Appert, music director of the Clark College Orchestra, who started inviting him — and then commissioning him — to return to composition after many years of tapering-off output.

Doran, now 92 years old, has been pouring out the classical pieces ever since. His first four symphonies were written across nearly three decades — from 1947 to 1974 — but three more full symphonies have emerged from the Doran pen since 2006.

"I like to compose more than anything else in the world," he said.

You can hear several of Doran's short compositions for woodwinds, guitar and voice during a Lifetime Recognition Concert his local fans and friends are putting on in his honor. The concert is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 28, at the Northside Baptist Church, 5201 N.E. Minnehaha St., Vancouver. The concert is free, but donations are appreciated.

"It's really quite something to have people think that much of me," Doran said. "I know a great bunch of people."

Music and magic

Doran is a Kentucky native but spent most of his life in Los Angeles. His mother was a piano student who encouraged her son's musicianship, but he fell most deeply in love with music through woodwinds like flute and piccolo. He joined the Army during World War II and played piccolo in an Army band. The GI Bill helped him go to the University of Southern California School of Music, where he started out majoring in flute. Then he took a composition course with one of his idols, composer Ernst Toch (who would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize for one of his symphonies).

"Little did I know how this was to change my life. Toch turned out to be the greatest mentor in music I ever had," Doran said. "He did not concern himself with style. He said composers should express themselves, not certain trends in vogue presently."

That very same teacher was pretty tough on young Doran, he said, but the effect must have been good: Doran compositions have been performed all over the world since then. He has written nearly 300 pieces — including 10 full operas (with names like "Faculty Meeting" and "Marriage Counselor") and seven symphonies in addition to many dozens of works for woodwinds, brass, piano and voice. The Portland Chamber Players put on one of his children's operas — "The Adventures of Esmerelda" and "Roland the Minstrel Pig" — every other year; the Vancouver Symphony and the Clark College Orchestra have both performed his symphonies; and his "Merry Overture for Orchestra" was performed last year by the Northwest Oregon Symphony in Tillamook and Astoria, and the Beaverton Symphony will perform it in May.

As indicated by those quirky titles, a sense of fun and mischief infuses much of Doran's work. That's the same sensibility that was captivated, as a child, by the stage magic of famous illusionists such as The Great Blackstone and Thurston, King of Cards. Doran the Musician is also Narod the Magician — the veteran of more than 1,000 private parties for the children of such notable Los Angeles parents as Tony Bennett, Jon Voight and Englebert Humperdinck.

How did he get gigs like that? By joining The Magic Castle, a famous L.A. club that's all about promoting magic and magicians — and by "getting pretty good at it," Narod said, with typical modesty.


It wasn't just appreciation and commissions that got Doran's creative juices flowing in Hazel Dell. As with many artists, he was inspired — unfortunately — by tragedy.

Doran's daughter, Marianne, was in her 40s and dying of breast cancer in 2006. He found he had to write out his feelings, and he composed "A Memory of Marianne" flute and strings. This was the piece that so captivated Don Appert, the music director of the Clark College Orchestra, that he started asking Doran for more.

When The Columbian came to visit, Doran apologized that he couldn't provide the fully orchestrated version of "A Memory of Marianne" — and then he sat down at the piano to play.

The piece is tender, simple, sorrowful. Mostly quiet and sweet, it contains the occasional strange angle and ear-jarring turn. The final chord is "unresolved," Doran said — full of mystery and longing.

"It practically brings tears to my eyes," he said.

Matt Doran