Doug Reneau joined his brother, Charles, in the brass section of the Oregon Symphony in 2014 as third trumpet. He spent the previous five years as the assistant principal trumpet for the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, while also being chief trumpeter at the famous St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square, a member of a popular Dixieland jazz band, and a prolific accompanist for weddings and traditional New Orleans parades. Educated at UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance and Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music in Bloomington, Reneau brings his passion for teaching to Oregon State University, Portland Youth Philharmonic, and the Metropolitan Youth Symphony. He lives in Beaverton with his wife, Claire, and his two stellar stepkids – Max, who is nine, and Eliza, who is eight.
Doug Reneau at Ex Novo Brewing Company’s taproom and pizzeria in downtown Beaverton, one of his favorite destinations for a night out. Photo by Christian Rudman.
When did you first know that you wanted to be a professional musician?
I studied piano from kindergarten through fifth grade and then violin for a year before picking up the trumpet at age 12. My mom tells me I picked the trumpet because I knew I would have to carry it home every day, and the case was small. When I was 14, Peter Wood, the new trumpet professor at the small college where my mother taught voice in Iowa, came to our house for dinner with his wife. There was a tornado warning in effect that evening. As the sky turned green, and the wind picked up, we decided to head to the basement to take shelter. But first, Peter ran out to his car and brought his trumpets inside. We played duets for the family while we waited out the storm. That was my first “lesson” with him, and by the end of that school year, I was hopelessly hooked.
How often and for how long do you practice?
I love practicing. I know many musicians do not, but to me, this is where the magic happens. When people I meet find out I am a musician, they often will say, “Oh! You must be really creative!” When I reflect on the nature of my work, it’s not creative on the surface. I play the notes on the page. I didn’t write the music, so how creative is that? The artistry is in great practice. Being able to sit alone in a room for hundreds of hours of your life and figuring out how to make the right sound at the right time necessitates creativity. If you play the same thing every day, you will be consistent, but you will not improve. Every player needs to practice different things, depending on their strengths and weaknesses. I practice fundamental skills – sound production, technique, scales, etudes, et cetera – and form, which is using my body in the most efficient manner possible. The better your overall form, the more efficiently you play.
Do you get nervous before a performance? Do you have any pre-show rituals?
I do get nervous before some performances. Not all the time, but if I have a particularly demanding or exposed piece to play, I get the butterflies. I love to perform, so it’s usually less about being nervous about playing in front of people and more about creating the environment, mentally and physically, in which I can perform at my highest level. I do have several pre-show rituals. One is nap time. As a brass player in an orchestra, I need to achieve my peak performance quality between 7:30 and 10:00 pm. If I have a chance to restart my day with an afternoon nap, my brain is more likely to be rested and fresh. I get to the ’Schnitz at least an hour before every concert starts, so I have time to prepare to play my best. Most people I know try to get calmed down before they take the stage, but I need a little stimulation to get me into a state of high positive energy to perform. To that end, I have a double shot of espresso before every concert.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Being an orchestral trumpet player is an extremely niche occupation. If you only include orchestras that play and pay full time, there are around 180 jobs for trumpet players in America. There might be five to 10 opportunities each year to audition for one of these positions. Taking time off from work and traveling to the auditions can cost more than $1,000 each time. There can be up to 150–200 players trying for any one of these vacancies. Anyone who wants to do this job must run headlong into these facts with full understanding that it might not work out. Beyond that, practice and train like your life depends on it. Study with everyone great. Play hundreds of mock auditions. Record your practice sessions every day. And never, ever give up!
What is the greatest challenge you’ve had to overcome so far, and how did it change you?
I have experienced mental illness most of my life. ADHD and depression often go hand-in-hand, and this has been the case for me. I was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 10 and have had depression, to varying degrees, since I was about 15. I have been treated for both, and since beginning medication for depression only a few years ago, I have been in a much better headspace than ever, with periodic relapses. Mental illness is rampant in society in general, but I have seen firsthand how prevalent it is with artists and musicians. It can be debilitating. I have made a concerted effort to talk openly with other musicians about my mental illnesses because this is the first step toward getting better. I started a weekly “Mental Health Monday” post on my Facebook page to encourage people to “check in” and let me and others know how they are doing. The isolation of mental illness is one of the worst parts, and since I started doing this, I have had countless people reach out to me privately or publicly to ask what they can do to get help. The reward of helping friends and colleagues feel a little less alone has been deeply gratifying.
Artslandia’s theme for the 2019–20 Season is A Night Out. Describe for your readers your perfect night out.
My perfect night out is different now that I have kids, but I love to see scary movies with my wife and get a nice dinner somewhere. Ex Novo, which recently opened a new location in Beaverton, is a favorite local hang. They have something different on tap just about every time we’re there, and the pizza is outstanding. Plus, I love that they donate all of their profits to charitable causes. I also enjoy staying in and crafting homemade cocktails.