Douglas Hedwig is a New York native who has made himself a big name in the art community since the young age of 18. Not only did he attend prestigious music schools such as the Manhattan School of Music and Juilliard, the latter from which he received the first doctorate in trumpet, but he has also performed internationally as a first chair trumpeter in the Spoleto Festival dei Due Mondi, in Italy. Furthermore, Douglas has been on staff at Brooklyn College and Juilliard, conducted various orchestras, and composed musical pieces on commission for many clients, including the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera.
Why did you choose the trumpet?
Douglas: There were two things that prompted this choice. My father was in the armed forces for a number of years. He was attracted to the sound of the bugle and he passed that interest on to me. In the mid-to-late 50’s, there were black and white movies on TV that featured Erroll Flynn and other swashbuckling movies featuring classically trained composers who wrote superbly well for the trumpet. I was energized by that sound and the association of the trumpet lyricism and its declamatory (impassioned expression); two extremes that could create the most gorgeous melodic line and also pound out a fanfare.
I was also fortunate to grow up in a town on Long Island, NY that offered a really good music program to children. At age nine, a trumpeter who played for the Radio City Music Hall orchestra came to my school and performed in an assembly. We were told that we could choose an instrument to learn for the next year, and he absolutely mesmerized me. After that school performance, I told him that I wanted to study with him, and he became my teacher.
What have been some of your most memorable experiences playing the trumpet?
Douglas: There are two or three most important things that I look back on and appreciate about my trumpeting career now that I’ve slowly moved towards a focus on composing. My favorite memory thus far would be playing on the Grammy Award winning soundtrack of Porgy and Bess. This recording took place at the old RCA Studios on 6th Ave and 44th St. We performed it at the old Gershwin Theatre for three months in its entirety for the first time since he composed it in 1938. Other versions had been shortened or edited in some way. This production in 1977 was the exact version that he wrote, the way he wanted it to be done. It was an energizing, creative time recording.
I’m also proud of the opportunities I had to work with some of the greatest musicians of the 20th century when I played at the Metropolitan Opera, which is acknowledged to be one of the finest cultural centers in the country, if not the world. It was always an honor to be playing music with such high quality musicians, conductors, and singers from everywhere. I was also very pleased about the six months I played in Italy. I would say that was my first real professional engagement as an instrumentalist at a high level. I was 21 years old when I auditioned and won the opportunity to first trumpet in the orchestra in the town of Spoleto, Italy for the Spoleto Festival, which they called the Festival dui Del Sol.
One of the most recent highlights of my career in music happened about a year ago. Members of the Cleveland Ohio Orchestra performed my recent composition for concert band at the world-famous Blossom Music Festival. Entitled, "Tone Poem on Taps," it was performed on July 4th, 2016. It was really thrilling and gratifying to hear my music so beautifully performed!
What prompted your transition from playing trumpet to composing?
Douglas: I have been composing seriously full time for the last five or six years. I was diagnosed with cancer in early 2011 and required major treatments. I’m glad to say that it all worked out and I’m completely healthy now but as a result of treatments like radiation and chemotherapy, it eliminated my physical ability to maintain my trumpet playing at the highest professional level I expected of myself.
Even when I was performing full time, I was always very curious about how the composers whose pieces I would perform would put together the music. Those of us who love music are emotionally affected by it, and sometimes our intellect is stimulated as well. That to me is a beautiful balance. I miss playing trumpet, but I feel like composing has been a good outlet for me because I finally feel like I have something to say at this phase of my life. As someone who has had 45 years of experience as a professional performer, some people are interested in what that experience brings to my composing compared to someone who has composed their entire lives.
Why did you move from New York to Chattanooga?
Douglas: My wife has family in East Tennessee. Her brother currently lives in Atlanta and her sister lives in Nashville, so Chattanooga ended up being the best place to be close to most of the family. It also helped that we had made several trips down here before we moved in November 2013 and were impressed by the creative energy that this city holds that has made it such a cultural hub. The Chattanooga Symphony was excellent and the Hunter Museum still blows my mind. Sometimes I’ll go and sit on a bench in the museum and compose for hours.
What differences do you see between New York and Chattanooga’s music scene?
Douglas: There are certainly differences in terms of quantity and scope of available options professionally and creatively, but with the current state of the Internet and the easy accessibility to creative outlets, I think that location is less critical. One can establish some wonderful local connections like I have since I moved here. There’s also a different energy here. I find it to be creative but also welcoming. I thought being a New Yorker would be a detriment to my ability to make friends. However, I’ve felt like I’ve been able to contribute to the community by doing things like writing symphony reviews for the local newspaper. That’s given me a lovely and unexpected opportunity to insert some of my own life and musical experiences that may help readers appreciate music in a new way. Chattanooga has been the perfect place for my creativity because the environment is far more easy going and less hyper and intense than New York and yet there are still energetic, creative people.
What advice would you give to young people who want to play music professionally?
Douglas: I was asked this fairly frequently when I was teaching at Juilliard and Brooklyn College and my best answer was this: when you’re performing, you have to fully believe that it is the best music that you’ve ever performed and that you’re working with the best musicians you’ve ever worked with and there really is nowhere else you’d rather be than playing than with those musicians. On the surface, I could be misinterpreted. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be yourself, but when you want to be a professional you have to understand the importance of interacting with your colleagues. If you communicate on a professional gig anything other than real focus and appreciation for where you are then it’s picked up by contractors who hire you and musicians that you work with