David Docter's love of classical music found its way into the lives of those who knew him.
Innumerable Normandale Community College students left his classes having learned more about music than they expected. His friends learned about Mozart and opera because Docter eagerly shared his knowledge. And his three children grew up with classical music filling their home — a foundation that led them into successful careers in the arts.
"As a teacher, he touched a lot of people," said his son, Pete Docter, a three-time Oscar-winning animator, writer and director. "He passed on an appreciation for music. He opened doors to Mozart and Bach that [could] be inaccessible. You just need someone to translate it, and he did that."
His father, who died of pancreatic cancer on May 15 at age 85, was a historian of music who taught for nearly three decades at Normandale, where he was among the first instructors hired when the Bloomington college was established in 1968. Docter directed the school's choral program, chaired the music department and presented the annual Madrigal dinners. He also founded the Normandale Choral Society, now known as the Bloomington Chorale.
"As a teacher, he was generous with his students," said longtime friend and community college colleague Tom Naughton. "And he wasn't surprised by a klutz like me if I asked a stupid question. He made people feel good about being in the room with him."
Docter was incredibly inquisitive, Naughton remembered fondly. "You have to continue to be a student to be a decent teacher," he said.
His joy of learning, insatiable curiosity and sense of adventure made him a role model, particularly to his three children, Naughton said.
"My parents allowed us to pursue our passions," said Kari Docter, who plays cello with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in New York. "A lot of parents might say playing the violin is nice, but I want you to be a doctor or a lawyer. But for us, music was just as well respected."
Her sister, Kirsten Docter, of Shaker Heights, Ohio, played viola with the Cavani Quartet for 23 years and now teaches viola and chamber music at Oberlin College and Conservatory in Ohio.
"My parents gave endlessly of themselves," she said. There were lessons, summer camps, youth orchestras, traveling and concerts. It wasn't easy for two parents who made a living as teachers, she said.
Like his sisters, Pete Docter, of Piedmont, Calif., trained early in classical music — first the violin, then string bass. But his passion was drawing cartoons.
"As a kid, we got hauled around to lots of concerts, and I credit to some degree getting into film for cartoons [to that] because out of boredom I would grab everybody's program and draw," he said.
Music, however, often shapes the work that has propelled him to his role as chief creative officer at Pixar Animation Studios.
For instance, he remembered his father once telling him: " 'All music comes down to a balance of expectation and surprise. If everything is expected and you know exactly where it's going, then you're bored. If every note is a surprise, then it's so off-putting that you don't listen. You have to find that perfect balance.' "
To this day, it's why Pete Docter pays close attention to pacing, timing and rhythm in his storytelling and filmmaking. "I have a definite appreciation for music that has stuck with me my whole life," he said.
In addition to his children, David Docter is also is survived by his wife, Rita, of Bloomington, and six grandchildren. Services will be held in the fall.
Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788