Robert Doan learned to play clarinet in sixth grade, and played all the way through his first year of college. But then a couple years in the U.S. Navy, followed by medical school, left him little time for music. He finally found time to play the clarinet again when his career was winding down in 1998, the same year the Plymouth Concert Band formed.
Doan turned 90 last November, and he’s the oldest member of the band. He also used to play with the Hopkins Westwind Concert Band, but that band practiced on the same night as his church choir did, and he’s sung there consistently since the 1950s. Since the Plymouth band practiced on a different night, it won out. He switched from a regular to bass clarinet for the Plymouth band to fulfill a need.
Director David Elmhirst respects Doan’s opinion as a musician and senior member of the band. “I look to Bob for advice on repertoire and whether a piece is going to work, and he’s honest… and he’s always optimistic. He believes in the band and the musicians around him; with an attitude like that, everything is possible,” Elmhirst says.
For his part, Doan thoroughly enjoys the experience. “I get a real stimulation out of the fellowship and creating something along with other people. You can go into a practice feeling tired and feel better at the end of it, despite the fact that it may be a lot of intense work,” he says.
“Bob is an extremely giving musician,” Elmhirst says. “He volunteers his time and his talent not only to the band every week but to certain projects outside the band, and he always volunteers to get a group of clarinets [together].” He does this so consistently that his group is jokingly called “the Doan Tones.”
Elmhirst says bass clarinet can be challenging to play with good sound, and calls Doan “a very fine musician.” He links music to healthy living. “I think playing music has helped Bob maintain health, and Bob is a living example of the results of a long life in music as well as his career as a doctor. Music helps all of us to be human and helps the brain be active and inquisitive.”
That’s another point where Doan agrees. “I can’t give you statistics, but I do think that old folks who remain interested in things in which they have to increase a skill or learn are just generally healthier, and probably last longer,” he says. “As a very wise person said, ‘When you’re through changing, you’re through.’”
The Plymouth Concert Band performs at Wayzata High School’s auditorium during the school year, and plays at various outdoor venues in the summer.
They rehearse Monday nights at Wayzata High School at 7 p.m. They’re always seeking players, and Elmhirst invites prospective members to sit in on a rehearsal and check them out.