Remembering Don Ray (1925 – 2005)

If you studied film composing in Los Angeles in the 1980s or 1990s, chances are you took a class or two from Don. B. Ray, who founded the UCLA Extension Film Scoring program. After a very successful career at CBS as a composer and music supervisor, Don poured his heart into education, founding one of the nation’s premier film composing programs. He gave freely of his time, his experience, and his passion for creating great film and television music with his students, and he is fondly remembered by a great many composers.

As a composer, he was creative, lyrical, and his music had a very unique quality and sensibility to it. If you spent time as I did watching “Hawaii 5-0” while growing up, you know Don’s music even if you’ve never met him. Don’s trademark underscore for that series is memorable, effective, and is an important part of television scoring history. His later musical works included works for chamber groups, works for piano and orchestra and more.

As a teacher, Don emphasized the practical aspects of film scoring to his students. “Don’t turn composer problems into musician problems!” he warned, when a student wrote something unplayable or presented the excellent studio musicians that came to play what the class wrote with a chart that was hard to read or contained errors. Don was all about composers taking responsibility and being practical about writing film music.

Don was a breath of fresh air in a town where everybody seems overly concerned about “looking busy” and “seeming successful” even if they aren’t. Don was never one to beat around the bush – he came out and said what he was thinking, and as a student you came to appreciate the kind of honesty and openness that Don was known for. In education, that kind of honest communication and feedback from a veteran industry pro like Don is rare and invaluable.

When we offered our Breaking Into the Film & TV Music Business seminar in the late 1990s, we were privileged to have Don come and speak to the participants as the final speaker of the seminar. Don’s timeless advice and wisdom are something we all can benefit from, and I invite you to listen to a recording of Don’s “Composer Advice” presentation here:

Click above to Listen Now or Click Here to Download

Here’s the handout Don wrote to go with his presentation (PDF).

Also, many composers still use his Orchestration Handbook which contains a very practical quick guide to instrument ranges and more.

Don Ray will be remembered by many composers including myself as one of the greatest film composer educators, and his work has touched the lives and careers of hundreds of composers. His passion and how selflessly he gave of his time and talents to benefit so many students are an achievement that have earned Don Ray a place as one of the greats of film and television music.


  • September 23, 2009 @ 10:56 pm

    Don was the best composition teacher I ever had. You simply HAD to compose every week—that’s it. He’d hammer you if ya messed up—but you’d always be better for it. He didn’t play games. He treated you like a professional. And he expected professional results from you at all times.

    I still have the prototype of his orchestration booklet.

    Bye, Don. Glad I got the chance to meet and learn from you.

  • Andreas Onoufriou
    May 23, 2014 @ 12:07 pm

    I was lucky to be a student of Don Ray in the eighties in London. He was very inspiring creative helpful and down to earth.
    Very knowledgeable not just in music but in many aspects of life,a progressive man that knew how to draw things out of you stir your emotions and encourage you to write music.He was a joy to be with,it was the best experience of my musical career.God bless his soul.

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