Upon completing his fortieth year with the Utah Symphony, Don Main has retired with humility, graciousness, and respect. His career spanned from the leadership of Maurice Abravanel in the 70’s to the present day music director, Thierry Fischer, including many a memory along the way. Some of his most memorable experiences involved touring with the orchestra, especially in the Abravanel days. He had the magical experience of performing at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a stone amphitheater built in 161 AD in Athens. While in Greece, the orchestra also visited and performed in Thessaloniki, the birthplace of Abravanel himself. Don told of playing at Carnegie and traveling over the years to Leipzig, Berlin, Barcelona, and London.
Don’s career is noted for his solid drumset playing with the orchestra. While not all classical percussionists specialize in drumset, Don has always had a particular affinity to the instrument. He started playing at age eight and did his first paid gig at age twelve. At fifteen years old, he was a proud ‘breadwinner,’ as he says, playing six nights a weeks in Salt Lake clubs. He’s always been into jazz, bepop, and big band, wearing down the grooves of his records of Miles Davis, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, etc. “I love funk,” Don also said with a smile, naming Tower of Power as a favorite. Young Don had another hobby which would later greatly influence his drumset style– dance. He did not just enjoy dancing, he competed nationally in ballroom dance competitions, even traveling to New York City to compete when he was fifteen. By his college years, he was teaching dance in the early evenings and playing drums in clubs late into the night. He jokes that his extracurricular activities got a lot more attention than his schoolwork.
Don finished college and embarked on a year-long, coast-to-coast tour with a comedian singer impressionistic show act. For Don, a Utah native, traveling and living on the road was a cleansing, refreshing, and enlightening experience. When he got back to Salt Lake, he decided it was a time for a change. Having devoted the last ten years to playing drumset gigs, he turned to classical music, auditioning for the symphony by means of a 2-week trial, in which he rehearsed and performed with the orchestra. He had already worked with the music director Maurice Abravanel, recording Varese’s Amériques in the 60’s. It was 1973 and Don Main became the Utah Symphony’s newest member.
Forty years later, it’s still apparent that drums and dance never left Don. From the execution of a snare passage to the selection of the right cymbal for a musical passage, Don’s playing style will always have that extra flair. Don mastered the art of playing drumset in the orchestra. As he said, “It’s about knowing the orchestra’s mentality – the idea of beat and time. It’s a give and take. Nobody knows the time is moving, but you know the drag spots.”
It would be superficial to exclude that Don is an exquisite person full of charm and good nature. His big blue eyes, white mustache, and insatiable smile are a delight. For his personality and his musicianship alike, he will be missed in the orchestra. Don expressed his gratitude for his job and his wonderful life, as well as his excitement to start this next chapter of his life. As he put it, this means infinite time for all the non-musical things he loves in life– first and foremost, his exceptionally beautiful wife of thirty-one years, Melinda. He also looks forward to more fishing, scuba diving, skiing, camping, hiking, the outdoors, and traveling. He’s thinking New Zealand.