Colorado clarinetist Don Ambler, 1928-2013.

(Photo: Courtesy Jill Nagode)
He came from humble beginnings. He and his twin brother Dale were orphaned as children. Dale convinced him to buy his first metal clarinet for $4 at a pawnshop. When Dale died at the age of 9, Don set his beloved instrument in his brother’s coffin -- intending to never play again. But he changed his mind and decided to honor his brother’s memory with it. He taught himself to play, and the clarinet was his constant companion as he bounced through six foster homes.

For more than 40 years, Don Ambler taught dozens of young area clarinetists. He was a beloved pedagogue and longtime member of the Denver and Colorado Symphony. Ambler was such a great teacher that many of his students went on to prestigious orchestra jobs. How many players in the Colorado Clarinet Choir might haveve been influenced by Ambler?

The Colorado Clarinet Choir performing Mozart's Symphony No. 34, First Movement.

Don Ambler’s long-time connection to the local musical community almost never got established. He was in New York when the opportunity for the Colorado job came up……and he nearly didn’t make it to Denver. When he found out the pay scale for the job, he thought twice about pursuing the position.

“I couldn’t keep myself in reeds for that!” he told CPR last year.

But Don Ambler won the audition, found students to supplement his income… and played clarinet and bass clarinet with the Denver Symphony – later the Colorado Symphony -- for 30 years. He was teaching up until the very end. Ambler died this spring in Lakewood, two months shy of his 85th birthday.

CPR Classical will salute important musicians we lost over the past year as part of our 2013 Retrospective. The show features tribute to international stars like pianist Van Cliburn and composer John Tavener, as well as key Colorado figures like Don Ambler and Barry Fey. When to listen:

  • On CPR Classical 88.1 FM: 
    • 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 28
    • 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 30.
  • On CPR News 90.1 FM:
    • 8 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 31
    • 10 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 1.