A Focused Approach: Interview with Donna Parkes

About Donna Parkes

donna parkes

Australian trombonist Donna Parkes has been Principal Trombone of the Louisville Orchestra since 2008 and has been Principal Trombone of the Colorado Music Festival since 2009. Prior to this year she played the 2012-13 season with the Utah Symphony and the 2007-8 season with the San Francisco Symphony. Miss Parkes was a member of the Virginia Symphony from 2001-2007 and was a member of the New World Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas for two years. She has performed with many orchestras including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, London Symphony, San Diego Symphony, Oregon Symphony, National Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, Singapore Symphony, Sydney Symphony and the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Miss Parkes has performed at the Arizona Musicfest, the Malboro Festival and the Grand Tetons Festival and in 2016 toured with the Australian World Orchestra.  Solo competition successes include winning the Australian National Trombone Competition, the Brisbane International Brass Competition and finalist in the Jeju Brass Competition in Korea. She has appeared as a soloist or clinician at the International Women’s Brass Conference, International Trombone Festival and the Melbourne International Festival of Brass. Miss Parkes received her Masters Degree studying under Charles Vernon at DePaul University and other primary teachers include Michael Mulcahy and Ron Prussing.


1. Tell us a little about yourself and what you do. What do you love about being an orchestral trombonist? 

I am Principal trombone of the Louisville Orchestra and the Colorado Music festival orchestra during the summer. I also love chamber music and teaching but my primary focus is orchestral performance. There are many parts of orchestral playing I love, it is such a unique and awesome feeling to be a part of the sound of a full symphony. To be surrounded by and contributing to music-making of that magnitude is fantastic. Another part of the orchestra I enjoy the most is the low brass section and how we function together as a team. I have fantastic colleagues in my orchestra and we are constantly striving to improve ourselves while supporting each other and that is very gratifying for me. Having players beside you that you respect and admire, then working together to have the best low brass product we can is so rewarding and fun!

2. Do you think we have a specific role or responsibility as female brass players? How do you incorporate that (or not) into your own life as a musician?

As female brass players I think our primary role is to be the best musicians and human beings we can. I have tried to simplify my approach and focus less on being a great female musician but rather to gain respect as a great musician and colleague. There is no doubt the role of being a woman brass player has many challenges and I believe everyone has to find their own path. It looks different for all of us but each woman should feel confident and supported to be her true self. I love that during my career I am seeing more women players and as there are more role models, that will only continue and grow. In the current climate of gender equality awareness I am encouraged that younger women will deal with less of the issues of the past. I strongly believe we need to support one another as women and be brave enough to speak up when situations are not acceptable. Our responsibility is to stand for what is right for yourself and for others every time. To strive to live the principles you believe in – for me that is being a dedicated, respectful and kind musician.

3. Tell us a little about what you do to stay motivated and focused in your job as a musician. How does this relate to your experiences running? (You’ve talked before in an interview with The 8th Position about the physical and emotional benefits of running to you as a person and a trombone player.) Do you feel running marathons has an impact on your daily life as an orchestral musician?

I find holding myself to high standards regardless of the situation has kept me motivated and focused. I try my best to make the best sound I can and to be the most sensitive musician I can – no matter what the environment. Having standards that you expect of yourself means you’re not as affected my all the variables that come up. I love to challenge myself by mixing up my musical diet – chamber music, recitals – anything to keep me fresh and striving for new goals. There is no doubt that for me running has a huge impact on my life as a musician. Purely from a physical standpoint there are benefits, when I am in great running shape I breathe better and playing is just easier. The mental benefits are even greater – running keeps me relaxed and energized. It requires true discipline which as musicians we all have , if you don’t put in the training miles the race will not be a fun day! Distance running in particular challenges your mental grit and having that skill developed is always valuable – if you can get through the last 4 miles of a marathon and stay positive you can achieve just about anything. For me the one the great lessons from running is to run YOUR race for that day – to focus on your best efforts and appreciate that as a success. Losing the attachment to comparisons to other runners and being able to trust your training and run the best you can, for me directly relates to being the best trombonist I can every day.

4. Do you see any specific challenges for musicians in today’s climate? How do you mitigate those on your own or when teaching?

There are challenges for the today’s climate and it is continuing to change. Much greater flexibility is required and musicians need to be able to be far more proactive in their approaches. There are no guarantees especially in the orchestral world so having  a wider skill set and being open to different career paths is vital. I encourage all my students to be open minded and try to learn many parts of the musical spectrum. Today you can not wait for gigs to fall in your lap – you need to make opportunities and be excited to try new things. The benefit of this climate is there are now many more ways to have a career in music if you are prepared to put in the time and energy. If you truly love it you can find a way to make it happen.

5. Is there anything you wished you had known as a student or young professional that you know now? Any advice that you’d like to share with younger female musicians?

It sure would have been nice to know I was going to have the opportunities I have – but the competitive nature of the orchestral world certainly motivated me. I would have given my younger self a confidence boost of assurance that time and experience has taught me. For younger musicians I would say work as hard as you can – it always pays off sometime down the line. The hours of dedication are invaluable and will give you a sense of pride and accomplishment you can’t get from anything but focused practice. The practice room is the most important place and you need to enjoy the art of the craft itself. Love what you do passionately but remember you are not your instrument – it does not define you. Success and failure are both just lessons to be taken in stride. I would encourage every young woman to find the support to be her authentic self and to speak up loudly when situations are not acceptable. Find mentors and career heroes and ask them all the questions – take in all the information you can. Be true to your principles – because at the end of the day the only opinion that truly matters is yours.

6. Any resources you recommend? Books, podcasts, recordings that changed your life, or anything else?

I have found the Bulletproof musician website to be a great resource and an area we often don’t get enough guidance or help with as a musicians. For me, hearing new players and wildly different interpretations is inspiring. I am also loving all the new great blogs and resources online – there is great information and motivation to be found!

One thought on “A Focused Approach: Interview with Donna Parkes

  1. Kenneth Earl Jones April 20, 2018 / 3:18 am

    Donna Parkes is a great teacher I had lessons with her. I now play with the sons of jubel brass we have a cd out.

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