Edward McDonald (Don) Keller (1897, Los Angeles - 23 December 1974, Reddington, Calif.) known as "The March King of the West, " was a prolific composer of marches, a teacher of bands and orchestras and a publisher of band music.
Mr. Keller was introduced to music at the age of ten when receiving a cornet from his grandfather. He went on to expand his musical talent by becoming proficient on other instruments, most notably the trombone, piano, and baritone. The baritone was his favorite, as he said, "This instrument has an integral and extremely important part in all band music; the baritone is frequently assigned to the highly enjoyable counter-melody part." When he turned to composing, Keller always gave significant parts to the baritones. Like most musicians of this era, he played with various bands and orchestras in his formative years.
When graduating from Stanford University in 1918 with a degree in economics, Keller had plans for a career in business. World War I changed that. After a year of army life as a trigonometry instructor in the field artillery, he married and decided to try farming, settling near Fresno, California. The depression and hard times of the late 1920s caused him to abandon farming and return to music. He played baritone and trombone with several municipal bands and picked up extra cash as a pianist with various dance bands.
In 1928, Keller was appointed to a newly-created music teaching position in the Patterson (California) school system. When he started at Patterson, there were neither instruments nor a library of music. Ten years later, when Keller moved on, there was a well-organized music department with an enviable record of superior-rated bands and orchestras.
In 1938, he decided to specialize in composing and publishing. Moving to Berkeley, California, he opened the Don Keller Music Company. His years of teaching made him realize that there was a need for music capable of being played by the average student. The slogan of his company became "Specializing in music that sounds big but is easy to play."
Some of Keller's best known marches were included in the A-1, Cardinal, and Archer band books. He also published numerous individual numbers, many of which were of professional grade. He composed in many music forms, using his own name and the pseudonyms Pat Lee (his daughter's name), Z.G. Thomas (Zeta Thomas was his wife's maiden name), Z.G. Elliot, and P.T. Archer. He also published the works of his peers, one in particular being a band method written by Frank Mancini.
During World War II, when music engravers abandoned their profession for defense work, Keller was faced with the decision of closing down his publishing business. But he stayed in business by devising a set of tools to do his own engraving. He also invented a unique process of using them for printing the notes, music staff, and eventually the printed music.
In 1960, Keller retired and sold his business to Wynn Music Publications. His remaining days were spent doing oil paintings, teaching, and publishing. Hundreds of his paintings now hang in the homes of friends and relatives, signed "Abuelo" (grandfather in Spanish), as a fond remembrance of the gentle man who had endeared himself to so many throughout his life. The study of the Spanish language was also one of his lifetime interests.
Works for Winds
- Front and Center (1942)
- Northern Trails (as Pat Lee) (1938)
- Rose Tournament Overture (1940)
- Tribute to the Trombones (1944)
- Trombones Triumphant (arr. Ployhar) (1940/1978)
- Heritage Encyclopedia of Band Music. "Don Keller." Accessed 25 April 2015.