Doucet sits behind the scenes, music at forefront


Jared Margolis

Accompanist Donald Doucet plays the organ in the back of St. John the Divine during Chapel. Doucet has been accompanying the school’s choirs and bands since 2002.

Gabe Malek, Editor-in-Chief

On the first day of school, students filled St. John the Divine as “Voluntary in D” played in the background. The man behind the music is accompanist Donald Doucet, making his presence felt through the sounds of the church organ.

While some might not see him as he sits removed from the student body, senior Kantorei member Emma Wertheimer always listens to Doucet because “there is nobody else in this world like him.”

Doucet was hired in 2002 as the school’s first full-time accompanist. Doucet has heard about the opening from Choral Director Scott Bonasso, whom he knew from Southminster Church in Missouri City.

“As a conductor, I have worked with a lot of different accompanists, and he is the best,” Bonasso said.

At an early age, Doucet was exposed to music by four older siblings who all played piano.

“I would climb on the bench and point at what I wanted to play,” Doucet said. “I was very aware of music, and my parents thought I showed potential. My father taught me the notes by the time I was five, and I started taking lessons by the time I was six.”

After playing for a few years, Doucet realized he adored music.

“You get into some pretty deep levels when you think about the idea of music being a language, of being a way to tap into deep emotions you might not otherwise and to be able to express those emotions publicly,” Doucet said. “Music was always a compulsion. My parents actively discouraged me from going into music as a career, but there was no question — it was something I had to do.”

Doucet spent his childhood engrossed in tunes.

“We had an old reel-to-reel recorder and hi-fi system that was in a corner of our house, and I used to go back there and indulge,” Doucet said. “I listened to everything: jazz, rock, the Beatles. I was assimilating all different kinds of style which helps me now because I have to play all different styles.”

After receiving his Master’s in Music from the University of Cincinnati in 1979, Doucet returned to Houston to involve himself with the local music community, but he did not get his first full-time accompanist job until 1982 at Rice University.

Before joining SJS, Doucet was also considering an offer from the Houston Ballet.

“The situation at SJS was far superior,” Doucet said. “The people I work with make this job great. These people are serious about excellence, know what they’re doing, know how to teach and know how to get results from the kids.”

Doucet’s favorite aspect of the job is working with the students.

“The students really buy into this. When I first came here, Chorale had 50 students; now we have over one-fourth of the Upper School involved in choir,” Doucet said. “Students could just as easily keep walking through the tunnel and straight to their cars, but no. They stay.”

Bonasso cites Doucet’s involvement as a reason for the program’s growth.

“We’re all spoiled here because he’s so good and so efficient,” Bonasso said. “With the little time we have it’s important that we use it well, and a bad accompanist can wreck your productivity.”

Doucet also helps teach students.

“I worked with him on voice auditions for college, and he gave different input from my voice teacher,” senior Olivia Havel said. “He makes you think about the piece as a whole, not just what you’re singing. He doesn’t say much, but when he does, it’s very smart.”

Doucet still takes piano lessons regularly from his own instructor, Robert Brownlee, who has taught Doucet for 43 years.

“Every time I work a solo recital, I’m at his house,” Doucet said. “How many guys my age can still say they are studying with their high school piano teacher?”

Doucet still wonders how Brownlee can provide such valuable insight.

“He keeps hearing things and guiding things in a better direction,” Doucet said.

Fellow music teachers turn to Doucet for advice.

“He is a wealth of musical knowledge and information, and if he can’t answer a question then it’s probably not answerable,” Bonasso said. “He has an encyclopedic brain about music; his capability is prodigious.”

Band Director Darrel Parrish formed a jazz trio with Doucet and Bonasso last year and enjoys performing with them in churches around town.

“Any time you can play with someone who’s at that level is outstanding,” Parrish said. “I’ve played with every kind of group, but certainly playing with people who have that musicianship is great.”

Bonasso considers Doucet, the often unseen accompanist, the gem of the department.

“Everything is better because of his involvement.” Bonasso said. “To have a musician of his caliber on our faculty is a treasure.”