Don Walker was born in Ventura, California on December 18, 1941 and performed his first composition there, a vocal solo, at age 13.
During his college years, he studied composition with Leland Smith at Stanford University, receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1964. Subsequently, Walker worked with Arnold Elston, David Lewin, Seymour Shifrin, Richard Felciano, and Larry Austin (who published his Spiro T. Agnew Songs in Source magazine ), while completing a PhD. in Composition at the University of California, Berkeley in 1971. His dissertation (Symphony #1) tropes the outer movements of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata.
Later, Walker earned Master's degrees in Library Science (UC Berkeley, 1974) and California History (CSU Sacramento, 1991). He also briefly studied Ethnomusicology at the University of Washington under Robert Garfias and Frederick Liebermann (Summer 1977).
During the 1970s Walker taught composition, theory and history at Sonoma State University, the University of South Florida, and, Oregon State University. During the 1980s he was Music Director at St. Paul's Methodist Church in Stockton CA, while from 1991 until his retirement in 2003, Walker served as University Archivist at the University of the Pacific (also in Stockton), where he had the opportunity to review and to organize the papers and recordings of jazz great, Dave Brubeck.
Don Walker has written more than 200 works, including: 10 symphonies; 3 operas; piano, violin and clarinet concerti; 14 string quartets; 14 piano sonatas; and, more than 100 songs. These works run the gamut of available styles, from aggressively dissonant to gently lyrical, often mixing the two in the same work.
Don Walker with Dave Brubeck
Walker's music can also be purposefully serious-minded and yet often intentionally amusing, as well. Two recent performances: the premiere of his Quodlibet in the Name of Charles Ives by the Bohuslav Martinu Orchestra of Zlin, Czech Republic, and, the Serenade for Violin and Violoncello performed by Alois Wilfliner, violin and Kristaps Bergs, Violoncello at an OGZM concert in Vienna, may be heard on this website.
Serenade for Violin and Violoncello [3:25]
Alois Wilfliner, vn.; Kristaps Bergs, vc. (2009, Olomouc, Czech Republic)
Awards received by Don Walker include: the George Ladd Prix de Paris, granted by the University of California for two years' study of composition in Europe; a National Endowment for the Humanities grant for the study of Ethnomusicology at the University of Washington; and, a Composer in the Community Grant with the Oakland [CA] Chamber Orchestra. Recent commissions include: a work for bassoon, horn and violoncello by the Neoteric Ensemble of Southern Illinois University; a work for oboe, organ, and violoncello by the Westminster Presents series of Buffalo NY; and, a composition for violin and violoncello by the Oesterreichische Gesellschaft fuer Zeitgenoessische Musik of Vienna.
Don Walker with his musicologist wife
Dr. Ellen Amsterdam-Walker
Don Walker's esthetic stems largely from the example of Charles Ives. Although he was trained during a period when the attitudes and techniques of the Second Viennese School (Schoenberg, Berg and Webern) and their chief living descendants (Boulez, Stockhausen and Berio) dominated both American and European pedagogy, Walker preferred, like Ives, to embrace all styles and techniques, so long as they produced music that was expressive and involving.
Pablo Picasso's stated interest in setting up unexpected relationships between familiar things and abstractions has also influenced Walker's music. Picasso maintained that non-figurative painting never reached deep into people's minds and hearts because there was no relationship between the artwork and their visual habits. Thus, he always sought to build abstraction from visually familiar attributes that functioned as points of reference designed to connect both his work and its viewer with daily life.
Following this lead, Walker has generally rejected the exclusive use of Post-Webernian Serialism, or of Minimalist Additive Construction, in favor of the free use of these devices intertwined with Romantic lyricism, Modern & Traditional Popular and Folk Music, Medieval and Baroque contrapuntal structures, World Music, pitch interval and
rhythmic expansions a la Joseph Schillinger, jazz (and other) substitution harmony, structures derived from Fibonacci-generated materials and proportions, tropes on well-known works by other composers, and materials derived from other art forms, or from language. If there is a dominant idea in Walker's compositional approach, it is probably the principle of non-repetition.
One example of the composer's varied approach is the Serenade for Flute & Violoncello (1965) where pitches are organized in a twelve note set [F-Ab-Bb-B-C-Eb-E-G-A-C#-D-F#] that can be made to sound very "bluesy," and where each form of the row [Original, Inversion, Retrograde and Retrograde Inversion] is assigned its own thematic material. The overall structure of the Serenade is determined by the necessity for each set form to be heard only once and for set sequence to be based on the maintenance of maximum pitch turnover. When all 48 set forms have been used the piece is over.
Another, more recent illustration of Walker's varied approach is to be seen in his Fourth String Quartet ["Third World"] (1983; 2005). In this four part work each movement is connected to scales and rhythms from a different part of the world. Movement one is based on Indian music, movement two on West African music, movement three on Latin American music, and, movement four on Balinese gamelan music. Structure is derived from what Walker refers to as a "Matrix." This approach to form selects one or more parameters (in this case Texture only), then employs all possible combinations of the four instruments with respect to that parameter. For instance, the violin may be heard: as a solo instrument; in "duets" with each of the other three instruments; in three trios with two of the other instruments; and, in one quartet with all of the other instruments. Naturally, the "matrix" approach can be applied to any parameters of the composer's choosing.
Yet a third illustration of Walker's compositional variety may be heard in his a cappella Psalm settings. Here, the principle of non-repetition is applied to tertian harmony. There are twelve major root position triads, twelve minor root position triads, twelve 1st inversion major root position triads, twelve 1st inversion minor root position triads, and so on. The complete pitch structure of each Psalm setting consists of one statement each of the seventy-two available chords. Naturally, the chord vocabulary may be expanded, through the addition of major and/or minor seventh and ninth chords, chords with flat 5ths, added 6ths, jazz substitution chords etc. and Walker has done this in others of his compositions.