Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Musician Spotlight: Doug Wallace

For our second edition of ASO Musician Spotlight, we interviewed principal timpanist, Doug Wallace. The New Haven, Conneticut native talked about all things music (from Frank Zappa to Stravinsky) in an email interview conducted in early May.

Are you originally from the area?

I Moved to Virginia at age 10. I attended Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax for Middle School and High School. I received a Bachelor’s degree from the Eastman School of Music and a Master’s degree from The Juilliard School. I moved back to the DC area in 1996.

What’s your musical background?

I began playing percussion at 8 yrs. old, mostly because I wanted to play drums in a rock band. My parents never really listened to classical music, so I didn’t have much exposure to it until I started playing in youth orchestra and school orchestra. I also played in the George Mason Orchestra while I was in high school. This really helped turned me on to classical music. I have performed with many orchestras and chamber ensembles including the National Symphony Orchestra, Washington National Opera, Metropolitan Opera, Theater Chamber Players, Battery Four Percussion Group, and The Oblivion Ensemble.

I also have many other interests within the music field. I do a great deal of teaching, I compose and have my own publishing company. I also run a percussion web site,

Why did you choose percussion?

My father had played drums in high school and college, so there was a beautiful Gretsch drum set sitting in my basement from the time I was born. I still have that set today!

When did you join the ASO? What’s your most memorable ASO performance?

I have been performing with ASO for about 10 years and was appointed Principal Timpanist in 2000. My most memorable performances have been the emotional debut at Schlesinger Hall (less than two weeks after Sept. 11, 2001), The “Percussion Blast" concert in 2002, Stravinsky’s "Rite of Spring" in 2003, and Milhaud’s "Creation of the World" with Branford Marsalis in 2004.

What or who influences you?

My influences change as I change. At the present time, my family is my greatest influence. I marvel at the things my two year old son can do, and he inspires me to improve in all areas of my life.

Are there any “movers and shakers,” up-and-comers, or exciting trends you see happening in symphonic music?

I think that we have reached a time when Symphony Orchestras must embrace technology in performance, education, and marketing or else they will fail to exist. I have felt for a while that most of the notes, chords, rhythms, color combinations, and orchestration have already been explored in classical music.

The next frontier, in my mind, is the implementation of technology coupled with a transformed art form that requires use of all the senses – sight and sound, of course, but also touch, taste and smell. I guess that I can envision an experience for the audience along the lines of a highly sophisticated live IMAX movie with the orchestra as the featured entity.

Obviously, anything that is cutting edge and that uses sophisticated technology presents two very real problems: 1. It can be extremely expensive to produce. 2. The classical music purists will argue that it goes against a very old orchestral tradition. I respect that point of view very much (and I am not suggesting that we do away with the elegant tradition of a night out dressed up with a glass of wine listening to Mozart's "Symphony #39"). However; orchestras need to reach young audiences in order to keep the tradition of symphony orchestra alive. What about a 24 hour classical music cable channel with news, performances, audience interaction? What about “Classical Music Idol” or “Audition Survivor”? Some people will cringe at the thought of this, but exposure is a good thing if you keep the artistic integrity and quality of the music high. That is the challenge.

Side note - Including popular artists on certain concerts is a way that many orchestras have attempted to attract young audiences, but I think that more needs to be done.

As far as education and marketing go, every orchestra should have an interactive web site, blogs, articles with RSS feeds, a MySpace page, a Facebook page, etc. This is how young people communicate these days, and any business or non-profit organization that doesn’t get with the program is going to be left behind. I am also a firm believer in program notes and speaking briefly to the audience before pieces.

Favorite thing to do when not playing?

Sports – I love to play and watch sports. All sports, but especially the big team sports (basketball, football, hockey, baseball). I feel that playing an instrument and playing a sport are very similar because mental focus, endurance, and agility are essential in both activities.

Favorite band or popular artist?

I can’t say that I have one favorite band or popular artist, but the following have all had a strong influence on me…

Band/Artists: Frank Zappa, Radiohead, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Jeff Buckley, Ben Folds, Jonatha Brooke, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Jason Faulkner, The Police, Vinx, Kieth Jarrett

Drummers: Steve Gadd, Elvin Jones, John Bonham

What’s the best part of living in the DC metro area?

Traffic – I love having to leave 2 hours early to make sure I am on time for a gig 5 miles away. Just kidding!

Seriously – The DC area in one of the most culturally diverse areas in the world. There is opportunity to experience so much if you take the time to look around. It gets difficult with the
hectic lifestyle many people live in the area, but if you can fight the traffic, there’s plenty to do!

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