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Composer Matt Doran of Hazel Dell dies at 94

Wrote 300 pieces; ‘liked to compose more than anything in the world’

By , Columbian Arts & Features Reporter
Published:
4 Photos
From left, Rebecca Olsen (flute), Victoria Racz (oboe), Michael McCabe (guitar) and Michael Liu (piano) were among the musicians who pulled together in 2014 to perform a "lifetime recognition" concert of works by Matt Doran, front and center.
From left, Rebecca Olsen (flute), Victoria Racz (oboe), Michael McCabe (guitar) and Michael Liu (piano) were among the musicians who pulled together in 2014 to perform a "lifetime recognition" concert of works by Matt Doran, front and center. (Columbian files) Photo Gallery

Classical composer Matt Doran, a Los Angeles transplant whose creative career got a huge second wind after he moved to Hazel Dell, died on Aug. 3. He was 94.

The cause was “primarily pneumonia,” according to his friend Alan Hemenway, who visited Doran at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center earlier in the week and said he found the composer in pretty good spirits — but aware that his time was short.

“Everybody loved him. There was something about him,” Hemenway said. “I used to drive him to concerts. He was low key and very gracious. He was a gentleman from the old school.”

There was both deep sadness and mischievous humor in Doran’s works, according to Don Appert, the music director and conductor of the Clark College Orchestra.

“He was a very serious guy. There’s a bit of melancholy in most of his pieces,” Appert said. He added that he thinks Doran’s greatest composition probably is “A Memory of Marianne,” a brief orchestral elegy the composer wrote for his daughter as she was dying of breast cancer at age 46.

LISTEN TO MATT DORAN’S MUSIC

Alas, too much Matt Doran music remains unpublished and unheard. But there are options:

  • Bob Haas made good audio recordings of that 2014 lifetime recognition concert; hear them at www.onscenedigital.com/doran
  • Don Appert has posted several videos of himself conducting Doran works on his website, www.maestrodonappert.com/video.html. Scroll down to find them.
  • Numerous performances can be found on YouTube; try searching for “Matt Doran music” or “Matt Doran flute” to avoid pulling up other, unrelated, celebrity Matt Dorans.

Doran played a piano version of the sweet, sad, strange piece for this reporter in 2014, and said it was intentionally left “unresolved” — full of mystery and longing. “It practically brings tears to my eyes,” he said.

And yet, Doran also wrote numerous comic operas. His setting of the William Steig children’s classic “Roland The Minstrel Pig” is a perennial favorite of the Oregon Chamber Players, which commissioned the work; other Doran operas were his witty pokes at the mundanity of life and work, sporting straight-faced titles like “Marriage Counselor” and “Faculty Meeting.”

“I know one was an allegory about a professor he didn’t like,” Hemenway laughed.

In all, Doran wrote nearly 300 pieces of music — including 11 operas, seven symphonies and many dozens of works for brass, woodwind, piano and voice.

“Like all composers, it was always all about the next piece, not the one we just did,” Appert said. “I tried to tell him, you should enjoy what we do instead of always wanting to get back to work. But that’s the nature of the composer.”

In 2014, Doran told The Columbian: “I like to compose more than anything else in the world.”

Torrent of music

Doran was a Kentucky native but he spent most of his life in Los Angeles. He was the first person ever to receive a doctorate in musical arts from the University of Southern California, and his first symphony debuted there while he was a student. He taught at Mount St. Mary’s College for nearly 30 years, and his second symphony debuted there.

His third symphony sat in a drawer for nearly three decades.

Doran and his wife, Therese, escaped from L.A. and moved to this area in 1997 to be near one of their children — and to see whether Doran, whose creative spark had started to fade in that crowded city, could become “a big fish in a small pond,” Therese said in 2014.

That’s exactly what happened. Doran approached Clark College music director Appert with one of his early compositions. Appert didn’t think the piece so amazing, he confessed, but he performed it with the Clark College Orchestra anyway because he wanted to encourage this newcomer to keep writing.

The next piece Doran produced was for the women’s choral ensemble — and now Appert was truly impressed. “It was very beautiful and very touching,” he said, and he started commissioning Doran to compose more.

The result was “a torrent of music,” Appert said. “A total unleashing of creative juices. I’m a composer too, so I can tell you, one of the things that gets the juices flowing is having somebody appreciate your work. One thing I’m most proud of, I encouraged that. I’m probably the person who premiered more of his orchestral works than anyone else.”

The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra bolstered Doran, too, taking a couple of his overtures out for test runs in 1999 and 2002 before agreeing to give his unknown, 27-year-old, third symphony its world premiere at last. “It’s a vindication,” Doran told The Columbian in 2004. “Music isn’t written to stay in a drawer.”

Doran was especially pleased to be the guest of honor at a February 2014 “lifetime recognition” concert of his works, staged by a group of his musical friends at Northside Baptist Church in Minnehaha. About 150 people attended.

Magician and musician

Doran had an alter ego: Narod the Magician, an expert at card tricks and sleight-of-hand who joined L.A.’s famed Magic Castle club and worked more than 1,000 private parties for the children of such notable Los Angeles parents as Tony Bennett and Englebert Humperdinck.

Strange to say, he may have been more successful as a magician than as a musician. When this reporter visited him in 2014, Doran showed off a royalty check from a music publisher that he’d never even bothered to cash. It was for the grand sum of $4.82.

“Most composers know they’re never going to get paid,” he said.

Doran is survived by his wife, Therese, and sons Edmund, Charles, Matt Jr. and Timothy. A memorial and reception are scheduled for 3 p.m., Aug. 27, Evergreen Memorial Gardens, 1101 N.E. 112th Ave., Vancouver. All who knew Doran are invited.

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