Don and Ron (a twin brother) Coleman, were born in Singapore. They started playing clarinet at age six, inspired by an older brother, Richard, who was an accomplished performer on the instrument. Their father, Paul, was a music teacher who provided the twins and two other brothers with good teachers, insisted on regular practice, joined with them in music-making, and sacrificed to give all four quality instruments.
Their father's career led to a return to the United States in 1953 and teaching positions in the Northwest, at Auburn Academy, Portland Union Academy, and then, after more overseas service in Indonesia, a position at Laurelwood Academy in 1965. When the family moved to Laurelwood, the twins as well as a younger brother, Lewis, then in 7th and 5th grades respectively, had become exceptionally capable players.
Their father talked to the academy band about the idea of having them play in the group. Following auditions and an understanding that the three boys would not be holding first chairs until they were academy age, an agreement was reached with the band to allow them to play with the older students.
While at Laurelwood the three younger boys, who had previously been taught by their father, took lessons from Owen Sanders in Portland and with Al Friedman at Pacific University in Forest Grove. During this time the boys became well known in the Northwest for their solo and ensemble work.
When the family moved to College Place, Washington, in 1970, the twins played in the Walla Walla Symphony for the next three years, a new experience in ensemble playing that both enjoyed immensely.
In the early 1970s, Don took a year out of college and went to Rwanda, Africa, to work in volunteer service. During this trip, his clarinet was stolen and he replaced it with a matched set of Buffet clarinets that he has used in all of his subsequent playing. When he was nine, his father had purchased three Selmer soprano clarinets and a bass clarinet for the three younger boys. Don became the regular player on the bass clarinet in the family ensemble. Given his age and the size of the instrument, it was necessary for him to play it standing on a small box.
When he returned to the U.S. following his service in Africa, Don attended Northrop Aviation and Maintenance School. This was the beginning of an association with aviation that has continued to the present. He has been a flight instructor and charter pilot, as well as an aviation mechanic. He and his brother Ron are senior pilots for Continental Airlines, having been with CAL for over 20 years. He has flown DC9, B727, B747, and B777 aircraft and flies long-haul international routes.
Both he and Ron subsequently played together in the Guam Symphony, often trading chairs. In 1994 the twins and their families returned to Walla Walla, Washington, partly because of the opportunity to again play in the WWSO. Don also played in the Walla Walla University Wind Symphony on both soprano and bass clarinets until his return to Guam where he presently resides.
Sources: Interview with Donald Coleman, 2007; Personal Knowledge. See biographies for Paul Coleman, Ronald Coleman, and Lois Coleman Hall for more information about the Coleman family.