Looking Back: My Career As Composer        
When I look back at my formative years and at some of the contributing factors to my growth as a composer, I can see how blessed I was to have been born and raised in Chicago, an internationally recognized cultural center as well as, at that time, the second largest city in the USA. My first seven years were spent in the Kenwood neighborhood of Chicago, less than two miles north of the Museum of Science and Industry. My earliest memories (early 1940s) include going to the museum with my dad, as well as taking the commuter train with him to the Loop to shop at places like Lyon & Healy’s Record Store on Wabash Avenue.
About two months before my seventh birthday, my parents and younger sister, Cynthia, moved into a two-story brick house on the East Side, a small but growing community at the south end of the city situated between the Calumet River to the west and the Indiana state line to the east. My mother took Cynthia and me—and, after her arrival in 1946, our little sister, Eleanor Beth—to a small church in the neighborhood, the Swedish Evangelical Mission Covenant Church, where I was confirmed at the age of twelve. It was at Covenant Harbor, the church’s summer camp on Lake Geneva in Wisconsin, where I went forward during an evening chapel service and accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior. That was on August 1, 1950 —just 32 days after my thirteenth birthday.
While my initial contacts with music were through my father's violin playing and his record collection of Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky—as well as weekly radio broadcasts by some of the major orchestras of the day—I was not myself actively involved in music until, at the James H. Bowen High School of South Chicago, I began studying clarinet at the age of fourteen and oboe and English horn at sixteen. I studied clarinet for a year with Walter Wollwage, second clarinetist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and took a semester of oboe lessons with Francis Napolilli, a former member of the CSO. In addition to playing in my high-school band and orchestra, I was a member of the American Conservatory and South-Side Symphony Orchestras in Chicago.
It was during my high-school years that I discovered 20th Century Music—especially that of Barber, Bartok, Copland, Hindemith, Holst, Hovhaness, Kodaly, Martinů, Nielsen, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Sibelius, Stravinsky and Vaughan Williams.  Following the lead of my high-school chum Newton Friedman, who already had an impressive library of what was to me "new" music, I began to purchase 45rpm and LP recordings for my own collection; I also sought out live concerts and radio

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Also in 1957, at the beginning of my first term as a music major, Jim McAuley and I organized the restoration of the University of Chicago's then-defunct orchestra.... It was quite ironic, when the Orchestra began holding weekly rehearsals on the stage in Mandel Hall, that my dad was seated once again in the violin section—a full quarter-century after his earlier participation in that same orchestra on that same stage, playing off of the same sheet music!
<--Mandel Hall stage (ID # apf2-05033; click on photo for details)
Permission to post granted by Special Collections Research Center, Univ. of Chicago Library (ID # apf2-05033)
Copyright © 2010 Donald M. Wilson. All rights reserved.