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Don Robertson - 2005 Bio

Childhood

Don Robertson was born in Denver, Colorado in 1942. Nearing the age of three, his parents realized that he loved classical music, as he was playing his family's 78 rpm records of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony over and over. A wealthy Denver patron of the arts observed him doing this one day and the boy was taken to Dr. Antonia Brico, a famous woman orchestra conductor who had moved to Denver, and he became her youngest student at three years old. In 1946, invited by Jean Sibelius to conduct the Helsinki Symphony orchestra, she took a photo of her and Don (below) to the famous composer, telling him "One day this boy will be a great composer too!"
And that was the boy's greatest wish, as he attempted to write down the childish tunes that he picked out on the family piano. His mother saw to it that he attended concerts of the Denver Symphony Orchestra, and the family dined at local supper clubs, where he could watch the dance bands play. 
In 1948, when Don was six, his mother and father made a trip to Aspen, Colorado where they watched composer
Igor Stravinsky conduct the Aspen Summer Festival Orchestra. Young Don already knew Stravinsky's Firebird Suite and was looking forward to the event. During the intermission, the youngster disappeared, however. 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, they were relieved to see their little boy entering the stage area along with the musicians. Asking where he had been, Don replied to his worried father: "Back stage talking with Mr. Stravinsky. He's a really nice guy."


Don and Dr. Antonia Brico in 1946


Early Years

Robertson liked to go off by himself to create "symphonies and operas" in his head while the other boys played ball on the school playground. When his family visited friends and relatives, the young boy always headed for the household phonograph and record collection where he would stay, listening to music, until they left. In 1954, when he was twelve years old, he wired together various record players, an Eicor tape recorder that his father had given him and some microphones to create 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. A year later, an impressed neighbor arranged for the twelve-year-old to have his own weekly DJ show called "Teen Tunes" on Denver radio station KFSC. 
In 1956, Don Robertson took his girl friend to see Elvis Presley, who came to Denver with the Farron Young 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. He learned to play a few rock and roll songs, but 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 a few simple chords.
Robertson graduated from South Denver High School in 1960. Because of pour grades and a lack of interest in school, he was unable to fulfill his parent's dream of entering a major college, so his father drove him down to the Navy recruiter and Don was sent off to boot camp in San Diego. After completing basic training, he was assigned to the destroyer USS Los Angeles, home-ported in Long Beach, California. After only a few weeks aboard ship, he had a blinding realization of what he had allowed his father to do, and that he was now committed to living aboard a ship for almost four years, a life that would be completely alien to him. This realization cut him to the bone. Deep soul searching ensued as he asked the inevitable question "What really matters in my life?" The answer was that his real love, music, was what mattered. He immeadiately created a self-study program aboard ship, with a goal of learning the fundamentals of music composition, orchestration, theory, and counterpoint. Weekly trips to the Long Beach Public Library supplied him with scores  and records of the great classical works that he knew so well from his youth. Meanwhile, Don continued to practice and learn guitar, and he formed a jazz combo aboard ship.
 


Don, Rod and Lee: The Contrasts

After a year of self study, Don Robertson began writing a half-hour-long composition for symphony orchestra using his guitar to pick out the melodies and chords. He worked on Moments Avant de Partir for over a year. When he had completed its three movements, a friend arranged for the amateur work to be played during a rehearsal by the Long Beach California Symphony Orchestra. He would never forget that performance, regardless of the many youthful faults in the work. In 1964, Don finished his Navy stint and headed for the University of Colorado, at Boulder, to study music. There he formed a blues/jazz/light rock group called the Contrasts (after the Bartok composition by that name). They became very popular in Boulder, and after releasing two singles, one a guitar instrumental called 
On Green Dolphin Street, they purchased a van and moved on to Las Vegas, where they begin performing in the casinos.
Don quickly became dissatisfied with the
glitzy Las Vegas lifestyle and soon left the Contrasts, moving to Los Angeles where he enrolled in the Institute of Ethnomusicology at UCLA and began a study of world music. He studied and played music from China, Greece, Africa, Java, Japan, Persia, Bali, and the Middle East.
In addition to his studies at the Institute, Robertson began learning the North Indian classical musical instrument called the sitar from Harihar Rao, the Chinese classical instrument called the pipa from Lui Tsung Young, while



Don Robertson playing the Chinese
Pipa in Venice, California in 1965.

continuing his studies in Western classical music, auditing classes taught by Henri Lazarof and Gardner Reed, and studying counterpoint privately with Leonard Stein.

Morton Feldman and Ali Akbar Khan

In 1966, Don Robertson was married to his first wife, Suzanne Barr, and they moved to New York City to pursue his dream of studying composition at the Julliard School of Music. He was fortunate to find work as a studio musician in the New York recording studios, playing guitar and North Indian instruments on record albums and on network television commercials. In addition to classes at Julliard, Don studied privately with composer Morton Feldman and North Indian maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan.
 

The Tabla

It was under the tutelage of the great Ustad Ali Akbar Khan that Don began studying the drums of North Indian classical music called the tabla. 
In 1968, Don Robertson authored one of the first instruction books on the tabla. Published by Peer-Southern International, the bookTabla: A Rhythmic Introduction to Indian Musicwas available in music stores around the world for over twenty years.
Don Robertson continues to practice and learn the secrets of this amazing art to this day. He studied with Shankar Ghosh in 1968 and 1969, and has continued his studies of this amazing instrument with the great master Swapan Chaudhuri since 1986.


The Duochord

While living in New York City and studying with two masters of music, one from the East (Ali Akbar Khan) and one from the West (Morton Feldman), Don Robertson made a startling discovery when he realized that there was a strong difference between the ancient music of India that he was studying with Ustad Ali Akbar Khan on one hand, and the modern music of John Cage and Morton Feldman on the other. He noticed that the two types of music had completely different effects on him. He soon realized that the current "contemporary" classical music of the 20th century had a negative effect, making him feel restless, stressed and sometimes even causing him to have nightmares, while certain pieces of North Indian classical music would uplift his mind and spirit in the most dramatic way. He substantiated this observation when he discovered what he believed to be the foundation chord for negative harmony. Just as major and minor chords provide the foundation for concordant harmony, a four-note chord that he called the duochord provided the foundation for disharmonious music as well. Realizing that the then-current style of composing classical music, the style that he was himself using with his teacher Morton Feldman, was disharmonious, and that he had been composing music for several years that was actually based on this four-note negative chord, he gave up composition altogether and said goodbye to his friend and teacher "Morty" Feldman.

First Records

Meanwhile, Don had been offered a contract to record for MGM Records and had formed a band and was rehearsing. The resulting highly experimental rock group blended Western, Eastern, and Middle Eastern classical music with contemporary classical music and jazz, and performed several songs that were precursors to today's heavy metal music. When Don's MGM producer heard these songs, which were violent and extremely dischordant (Don played atonal leads while detuning his guitar strings randomly) he was so upset his face turned bright red and he stomped out of the rehearsal space telling Don he never wanted to see or hear him again. Soon, however, Don was signed to another major record label: Mercury, featured as a part of its new Limelight subsidiary. At this time he moved to San Francisco to continue his studies of North Indian classical music and to record his first solo album.


New Age Music

San Francisco producer Abe "Voco" Kesh had heard Don's guitar work on a  Folkways album and wanted to produce him. Abe was the producer for Blue Cheer, the first heavy metal band, and had just had a hit record with another guitar player, Harvey Mandel. Don, still reeling from his experiences with negative music in New York, created 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. Side One explored the positive, Side Two the negative, where he introduced the 


Don Robertson's 1969 Album Dawn

duochord. This was contrasted with the spiritually charged positive music that he performed on an Oscar Schmidt 80-string zither.


Positive Music

The following year, 1970, after a six-month recuperation from the past few year's involvement with negative music, Don embarked upon a course that focused on discovering the connection between spirituality and music. He felt that a spiritual essence could be found in so much of the great music of all times and cultures, and that it gave to music its greatest purpose: the ability to uplift and heal. He began a decade-long study of spirituality in the Western classical music tradition 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 Kosmon. He then spent most the 1970s in a San Francisco-based spiritual order. During the later part of the decade, he began talking to groups in the San Francisco area about the effects of positive and negative music.

Synthesizer Music

In 1980, Don Robertson formed his own record label and began composing music and releasing albums using synthesizers. He created six albums

of original music during the course of the next seven years, and this music found its way onto hundreds of radio stations across America and in Europe, Malaysia, Finland, Sweden, and Australia, and was a central ingredient in the growing new age music genre
Meanwhile, Don Robertson gave a number of concerts and produced seminars
that described and demonstrated the healing effects of music. The pinnacle of this activity was in 1981 when he, along his present wife, Mary Ellen Bickford and their good friend Norman Miller, organized three-day long seminars that used music, color and art to bring attendees into states of spiritual realization (see the "Rainbow Light Show").



Starmusic, 1982

 


A page from the score for Kopavi
 

Classical Music

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 new age music altogether and do what he really wanted to do instead, to write music for orchestra, chamber groups and choirs. In 1993 he had completed Kopavi for orchestra and chorus, a ballet based on concepts of spirituality, to be choreographed by his daughter, Rhonda Robertson. The term Kopavi is a Hopi word for the spiritual center in the human body called the crown chakra
  
    In 1996, Robertson began composing his Southern Wind string quartet.  

The Computer Book

   During this period, he also worked as a computer consultant living in Richmond, Virginia where he designed and created software for the Department of Motor Vehicles. At that time, he wrote his one and only computer book, a look at IBM's complex MPTN protocols. It was called  Accessing Transport Networks, and was published by McGraw-Hill.

 


Newlyweds Don and Mary Ellen with the Isaacs

Gospel Music

    To replace the 'hole' that had been left by Don's abandonment of the new age music genre, Don began an intense study of American gospel music. Now living in Richmond, Virginia, in the heartland of traditional black gospel music, he began a four-year immersion. Through his friend Barksdale of Barky's Spirituals, a gospel store in downtown Richmond, he was introduced to many of the last then-still-living pioneers in the genre. He also became friends with the Isaacs, a family group of bluegrass singers and musicians who created sublime music. Don traveled all over the Southeastern United States meeting and listening to many of the masters of the traditional gospel music, both the music of the Afro-American community and that of Southern whites, the latter consisting of two varieties: mountain, and quartet, both commonly known today as Southern gospel music. He moved deep into the spiritual communities of the South, the little country pentacostal churches and sanctified churches of the poorest black neighborhoods in Richmond, where he experienced first hand the faith, honesty, spirituality and commitment of the people, and the final traces of the original traditional gospel music, still being sung by men and women, mostly in their 70s and 80s. At this time, he began acquiring original 78 records of America's great, and forgotten gospel traditions, with the intent of preserving this valuable music. 

DoveSong.Com

In January, 1997 Don Robertson and his close friend Mary Ellen Bickford teamed up to form DoveSong.com, dedicated to bringing the reality of positive music to the world. Today an internationally recognized web site with an average of 1,500 visitors from all over the world each day, DoveSong continues to grow and gain support. The site began with pages dedicated to describing the great music traditions presented on the site: World, Western classical, and Gospel music, then in 2001, Mary Ellen and Don added a large library of rare MP3 recordings that included some of the valuable gospel 78s he had been fortunate to find. In 2003, in cooperation with Deborah Koh in Sinagpore and the Nassehpoor family in Tehran, important MP3 pages of traditional music from China and Iran were placed on line.
     In 2004, Don Robertson established the
Positive Music Movement. A group of composers and musicians dedicated to positive music.

 

New Music, New Life

    Don Robertson and Mary Ellen Bickford were married on May 10, 1999 at the Stanfield Church of God in LaFollette, Tennessee, the home church of their friends the Isaacs. After moving into a new home in Cumming, Georgia, Don composed and released seven albums of instrumental music: Keys, Celestial Voyager, Inroads, Alpine Symphony, Poeme, Yo Ki, and Aum.

 


Newlyweds Don and Mary Ellen with the Isaacs

 


A page from the score for Kopavi
 

Songwriting

    After Don Robertson had completed his fourteenth album of instrumental music, he turned his attention to the art of songwriting to add a new dimension to his music and after several years of study, he began composing several compositions for choir. He also made significant contributions to the book Songwriting for Dummies co-authored with his wife, Mary Ellen Bickford. 

 

 
Nashville

Don and Mary Ellen moved to Nashville in 2003 where they set up residence near the famed Music Row and the downtown music venues.

Music Through the Centuries: The Book

In the fall of 2005, Don published his long-awaited book on positive music called Music Through the Centuries. He had considered publishing the book through traditional channels, but decided instead to place the book online on DoveSong.com. "I just realized that my most important connection to the world is through DoveSong.com and that trying to get this information out to people through libraries and bookstores just wouldn't do it. For me, placing the book into the heart of DoveSong.com is not only a fulfillment of the the website, rounding it out, but it also gives the book the important enhancements of having links and musical examples. And it is free, available to everyone, everywhere. In the future, I hope to provide translations into many different languages as well."

The Song Album

    Don Robertson's album of songs "Take My Hand" was composed between 2003 and 2008, the year it was recorded, mixed and mastered in three of Nashville's premiere studios. The album has its own website "www.TakeMyHandSong.com".

 


Take My Hand

 

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The Scale Book

Don's handbook for the music revolution is "The Scale," written between 2010 and 2014.

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