Milton Donin has been a chemist by profession, but his heart has always been with music.
He has given several short courses in chamber music at the Fairways, the assisted-living complex at Carolina Meadows, and he has been a frequent player with music groups, including the UNC Symphony Orchestra, wherever he has resided.
One evening every week, three musicians appear at his residence to play chamber music: violinists Laura Thomas and Jane Brinkley, both from Chapel Hill, and Denise Dalton, who
plays the cello, from Hurdle Mills.
Donin is the violist in residence.
Brinkley, Dalton and Donin have been a chamber trio for many years when they can’t find a violinist to form a quartet.
Brinkley relishes her evenings playing with Donin’s group. “It is a delight to be with Milt,” she said. “He is a fine musician, and those who play in his group have considerable respect and affection for him.”
In addition to maintaining his lifetime enjoyment playing the music of the great classical composers, Donin is in his second year as chair of the Music at the Meadows concert series, a committee sponsored by the Residents’ Association.
Under Donin’s leadership, the committee this year has brought 16 outstanding musical events, including several pianists and vocalists, chamber music groups, a 14-year-old cellist who has won international acclaim, and an 8-year-old with an amazing ability as a violinist and also as a pianist.
Residents also were treated to the Barbershop Harmony Society, a tuba quartet, a unique voice/piano/trombone trio, and UNC’s popular jazz trumpeter, Jim Ketch, with Ed Paolantonio at the piano.
Donin is in his second year as chairman of the music series. Committee members who help with arrangements include Dick Ballard, Larry and Anna Botto, Kathy Gaston, Jane Gilmore, Gerry and Sydney Gura, Ed Mammen, Marion Peterson and Jody Hite (from the activities staff).
Donin was introduced to the violin when he was 6, and he continued his interest throughout his school years. After he entered high school in Bethlehem, Pa., Donin decided to try out for the senior orchestra but thought that he would have a better chance of joining if he switched to viola. The conductor was pleased to have another violist in the group, so he gave Donin an instrument and told him to try out. Imagine young Donin’s surprise when he barely recognized the music; he did not realize that viola is written for the alto clef rather than for the treble clef as is the violin score. But he managed to transpose for viola and was accepted into the orchestra.
Later he attended Muhlenberg College and graduated with a chemistry major. He then pursued a doctorate in chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh. He briefly considered a music career but felt that the security and stability of a scientific career would fit in better with his family life. While attending graduate school, he married Barbara Goldstein from Worcester, Mass.
Most of Donin’s working life was spent in New Jersey, where he worked for Squibb, a pharmaceutical company, and later for Ciba-Geigy. The Donins lived in Metuchen, where they raised three children. During this time he played in the Plainfield Symphony.
“Living near New York City provided me with an opportunity to meet many talented professional musicians,” Donin recalls.
One such experience occurred when friends invited the Donins to spend a jazz evening at Eddie Condon’s club. The group that was playing featured a clarinet player — Michael Andrew “Peanuts” Hucko. During an intermission, Donin was surprised to hear Hucko playing part of Mozart’s clarinet concerto. After talking with the jazz musician about his classical interest, Donin invited Hucko to play with his string quartet and later learned that Hucko’s teacher, an internationally famous classical clarinetist, Reginald Kell, suggested that it would be a good experience for him to play with Donin’s chamber music group.
Not only did Hucko come to an evening with the New Jersey players, but the English clarinetist, Kell, who at one time had been Benny Goodman’s instructor, came with him.
Hucko and the string quartet played Mozart’s clarinet quintet, and then Kell joined the local group in playing the Brahms clarinet quintet.
“My fellow players were thrilled to have Kell ‘sit in,’ and we never played as beautifully as a group as we did playing the Brahms that night,” Donin said.
This past summer, Donin took part in an Elderhostel European trip, “Tracing Mozart,” in celebration of the 250th birthday of the composer. Four days were spent in Salzburg, five days in Vienna, and five in Prague. Two others from this area took part in this trip: Don Hamm, a Carolina Meadows resident, and John Henry, from the Forest at Duke. Hamm and Donin agreed that, in addition to attending many fine concerts, the trip involved considerable walking in retracing the footsteps of Mozart.
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