Derek Hawkes

Assistant Principal Trombone

Hometown: Plano, Texas
Joined the Nashville Symphony in 2017

What other orchestras/ensembles have you worked with previously?
For the last two years, I was in the Jacksonville Symphony, and previous to that, I played for a year in the Bangor Symphony Orchestra while I was in grad school in Boston. 

What interested you about the Nashville Symphony, and what led to your decision to take the position?
This institution is on such an amazing hot streak right now. In addition to the GRAMMY® Awards, our concert hall is revered all over the world. This is an orchestra and an institution that seem to be doing everything right, from performance standards to community engagement. As for the city, I’ve visited Nashville four or five times in the past six years, and every time I’ve come, I’ve loved it more and more. In this industry, you don’t really get to choose where to live, so when the stars align, and you get to move to a city you’ve dreamed of living in, it’s a very special thing.

Culturally, it’s an amazing place — the culinary culture in particular. I’m really into craft beer and craft coffee, and Nashville is quite a town for that. The international cuisine is appealing, and where would I be without hot chicken?

Do you have any favorite local breweries?
Bearded Iris. When my fiancée and I were looking for a place, I had a keen eye on Germantown, and that’s where we ended up — just down the street from Bearded Iris, actually.

What do you love most about playing the trombone?
The trombones have such versatile use — often we’re called in to be the orchestral enforcers, the big guns during some of the most impactful moments of the repertoire. And as a whole, the low brass can be used to portray a very vocal entity. When you hear chorales in a Brahms or a Mahler symphony, there’s often a dripping, thick richness or sweetness about the low brass section sound, and those moments are what make playing the trombone very special.

If you could meet any composer, living or dead, who would it be and what would you ask?
Stravinsky — his use of color and all the amazing timbres he developed over the course of decades is incredible. I think I would have to ask about that use of color – why he selected and used some instruments in the ways that he did.

The Nashville Symphony performs a lot of contemporary American music. Do you have favorite contemporary composer, and what draws you to their music?
I’m an enormous Bernstein fan. He developed such a special subgenre of classical music and a crossover sound that is so unique, enthralling and approachable. It’s always a blast to play and to listen to. 

As far as composers who are active nowadays, one of my favorites is Cindy McTee. I find her works to be very invigorating.

Do you have a favorite movie score?
As cliché as it may sound, the music throughout the Star Wars series is incredible, particularly in how it fits the narrative. The Star Wars score is just captivating, and both the suites for the original trilogy and the new trilogy are a blast to play, especially as a trombone player.

More and more over the past few years, I’ve started to investigate and cultivate an appreciation for movie scores. I think it was easy when I was younger to take them for granted, but within that lack of analysis came a real, childlike appreciation for what music can do to a movie. 

Do you also teach in addition to performing?
I taught at a couple of colleges while I was in Jacksonville, and I usually maintain a small private studio as well. The four teachers I’ve primarily studied with all obviously had very significant impacts on my playing, on my ear, on my perception of what the orchestral trombone is, and what those duties often entail in the ensemble. Passing those lessons on is at the heart at the longevity of the craft.

What are your favorite places you’ve visited as a musician?
Tanglewood is a magical place. There’s something very special about going to rural western Massachusetts and feeling like you are leaving the city life for a place that is singular. It’s almost like a theme park for classical music — and I mean that in the very best way possible — but words can’t portray my love for Tanglewood.

What do you enjoy doing when you're not rehearsing and performing? Any hobbies or obsessions?
Being a Dallas native, I’m a huge Dallas Stars fan. After watching Stars games as an undergraduate, I so fell in love with hockey that I couldn’t imagine not playing it, so I decided to start playing at age 20. Like anything, it takes a whole lot of practice to master, but I enjoy it immensely. I’m looking forward to getting back into it during my hours off.


Why does classical music matter?
I’ve had many mentors in several capacities say that you cannot have a great city without a great symphony orchestra. From a corporate standpoint, it’s key to the recruitment and retention of blue-chip talent; they want to spend their time doing something enriching, something that moves them, and that support for the arts ripples throughout the community. And those kinds of people will obviously help to develop and build your city.

I think classical music matters because art forms have fluctuated over time, while classical music has maintained itself over centuries as something that invigorates the lives of those who experience it at any level. People sometimes make days of going to hear classical music. It is an event unto itself. There’s an energy about it that is palpable, and it’s hard to get that sensation coming out of even the best speakers. Experiencing that in a great building like ours is what makes my job so attractive and rewarding. 

Favorite piece of music
Stravinsky’s Pulcinella.

Favorite non-classical musician
I’m a big fan of Queen, but I also enjoy jazz across decades. Frank Rosolino and J.J. Johnson, of course, are two of the absolute titans of the trombone. Even going to back to Tommy Dorsey, there’s something about the sweetness of that ’30s, ’40s sound that hits you right in the heart. I’m a real sucker for the Stan Kenton era as well, and I’m also a huge fan of Maynard Ferguson, borne out of the Kenton Orchestra itself! 

What was the first concert you ever attended?
Both my parents were musicians, so I’m going to assume it was them playing on a recital long before I could remember it. 

What's the first recording you ever owned?
One of the first recordings I received as a gift was Vienna Philharmonic playing Mahler Three. As a trombone player, that piece is a certain kind of heaven.

Favorite venue?
The Schermerhorn is one of the finest two halls I’ve ever played in, the other being the Meyerson in Dallas, where I grew up.

Favorite sports team?
Dallas Stars.

Favorite movie?
Saving Private Ryan always gets me. 

Favorite TV show or series?
I like animated shows, so I’m a fan of Archer, Bob’s Burgers and South Park. I like to have background noise sometimes when I practice, so I enjoy animations.

Favorite book?
Many of the books I read are scores, so let’s say the score for Mahler Three, or Bernstein’s West Side Story or Chichester Psalms — which are very special reads in their own right.

Favorite food

There’s nothing like a medium-rare, verging-on-rare, bison steak.