"Hero of Glee" was the description of Donald Ashwander given by Charles Osgood, of CBS Sunday Morning's "Salute to Heroes" in January 1995. Ashwander had died suddenly on October 26, 1994, while preparing for a performance with members of the world renowned children's theater, The Paper Bag Players, based in New York City. When Ashwander joined The Paper Bag Players in 1966, as resident composer, musical director and performer, he introduced the electric harpsichord (along with slide whistle, kazoo, rhythm box and an array of other instruments). Today, The Paper Bag Players continue performing to the rambunctious and irresistible Donald Ashwander music that has given such a distinctive sound to this unique children's theater.
Donald Ashwander was born in Birmingham, Alabama and studied music at Sacred Heart College, Birmingham Southern College and Manhattan School of Music. His interest in American music led him to Ragtime, Sacred Harp and other forms of American folk and popular music. In the emerging world of contemporary ragtime, Ashwander gained critical acclaim in 1966, when two of his first rags, "Friday Night" and "Business in Town" were featured in Rudi Blesh's book, "They All Played Ragtime". Rudi Blesh became Donald's life-long friend and mentor. Blesh, on the 1971 Jazzology recording, "Ragtime, A New View" considered Donald Ashwander "to be an important ragtime composer... I think he would have been as important in 1917 as he is now". During the next 26 years, Ashwander continued to compose and record a new breed of ragtime, venturing into often unconventional musical territory, seeking to move outside the rigidity of the classical ragtime form while remaining committed to the possibilities he found apparent in its roots. His life experiences in the deep south, the New York music scene, his world-wide travels and his enjoyment of people from all cultures are all components of his thoroughly Americana music.
Donald Ashwander made many contributions to American music, both as composer and lyricist. His music "Friday Night" is in the repertories of The Canadian National Ballet and The Royal Ballet of London. He was honored by the Guide Foundation and received ASCAP awards. His work with The Paper Bag Players has been recognized with a New York State Governor's Award, as well as awards from the American Theater Association and The American Alliance for Theater and Education. The cabaret-style stage production "Particular People, Music and Songs by Donald Ashwander", was performed to delighted audiences in August, 1994 at the West Kortwright Centre in Upper NY State and in January, 1995 at La MaMa E.T.C. in New York City.
Donald Ashwander recorded several times on LP and, just a few days before his death, the compact disc "Traditional Patterns" was released through Premier Recordings. However, with the exception of three contemporary rag compositions, none of his delightful and unique compositions were ever published and available to the general public. Following his death, Ashwander's family assembled a folio of compositions from an unreleased recording project, "On the Highwire". This folio, "The Music of Donald Ashwander - Volume I", includes Ashwander's first gem, "Friday Night" as well as nine of his best and most inventive works. The meticulously notated folio (copied from the original manuscripts) includes extensive composer notes and a cassette tape of the pieces being played by Ashwander. The music folio, "The Piano Music of Donald Ashwander - Volume II" includes 20 other previously unpublished Donald Ashwander compositions and was published in October, 1998. Donald Ashwander compositions are generally for the intermediate to advanced pianist.