SSO bass trombonist and arranger Don Raff grew up in the South Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia. As a young boy, before the days of television, he enjoyed listening to music, especially polkas, on the city’s Polish ethnic radio stations on Saturday mornings. He asked his parents if he could have lessons to learn to play the accordion. For his seventh birthday he received a tiny twelve bass button beginner accordion and began lessons with a local merchant who played the instrument in the Aqua String Band.
When it came time to select an instrument to study in elementary school, he selected the trombone and soon was studying privately on both instruments. In high school he became student director of the band and with the director’s permission organized a school dance band. Don participated in band, chorus and orchestra and earned membership in the South Jersey Regional Band, Chorus and Orchestra as well as the New Jersey All State Band. He also played his accordion in dance combos during his high school and college years. (In those years, before rock and roll took over popular music, the accordion was the keyboard instrument in dance groups.)
Deciding to become a high school band director, Don enrolled at West Chester (PA) State College and earned a B.S. in Music Education. After graduation he became a one man music department at North Caroline High School in Denton, Caroline County, MD. After four years he passed off the chorus to a vocal music teacher and added two elementary school bands to his high school duties. Three years later he again became a one man music department at Smyrna (Delaware) High School. While at Smyrna he earned a Master of Education in Secondary School Administration at the University of Delaware.
Harford County Public Schools offered him a position as assistant principal in 1974-75 and thus began a twenty five year administrative career. During those years he spent a considerable amount of time unlocking the mysteries of music teachers to principals and helping teachers understand their principals. Don’s third assignment was at C. Milton Wright High School where he came to know Sheldon Bair who learned that Don had played in the Bel Air Community Band for a few years when he moved to Harford County. In the spring of 1984, Sheldon’s Susquehanna Symphony would be losing its bass trombone player who was moving away to attend graduate school. Sheldon asked Don if he knew anyone who played bass trombone and Don said, “I do”. Don joined the SSO for the 1984-85 season and begins his twenty eighth year with the organization. He retired from HCPS December 31, 1998 after thirty six years in education.
In addition to anchoring the trombone section, Don compiles program notes for the orchestra’s concerts. He has also written twelve arrangements that the group has performed at either the December Holiday Concerts or the Summer Bel Air Band Shell programs.