Marie A. Douglas is a musician, composer and conductor with a long list of impressive credits. They include working with symphonic and chamber orchestras and serving as musical director for Live Nation’s Big Femme Energy Live tour, featuring recording artists Teyana Taylor, Baby Rose, Ambré and SayGrace.
Douglas’ original music and multimedia pieces have been performed across America, and she will premiere new works with the U.S. Navy Band and the U.S. Army Soldiers’ Chorus in the coming year. She also earned a GRAMMY nomination for her arrangements on Sean Ardoin’s groundbreaking 2022 album ”Full Circle,” his collaboration with Louisiana State University’s Golden Band from Tigerland.
The album features a genre-defying mix of rock, soul, Creole and zydeco music. For many musicians, being part of such a high-profile project might mark the pinnacle of their career. Douglas, however, is just getting started.
Moving ahead, learning more and bringing the knowledge back to her community of students and peers is what’s most important to her. She enrolled in Southern Utah University’s online Master of Music in Music Technology – Performance Technology Emphasis program in 2017 to do all of the above. The faculty’s industry experience and commitment to supporting online students impressed her right away.
“You’re in contact with people who are actually working in the field,” she said. “Really genuine people trying to help you.”
Douglas graduated in 2018 and now teaches in the music technology master’s program as an adjunct professor. She hopes to give other graduate students learning online at SUU the same great experience she had.
“It’s just so deep how affecting, how empowering the degree program is,” she said. “Because it doesn’t box you in. It allows you to start to just get your genius out there.”
Getting in Step, Goals Ahead
Growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, Douglas became part of the city’s vibrant marching band culture, an early influence that led to her career in music.
“We have a really strong historically black college show style,” she said of the bands she saw and played in during that time. “I was fortunate enough to be exposed to that at a young age.”
Douglas originally played the trumpet but switched to French horn as her main instrument while attending Florida A&M University after high school. There, she had the opportunity to play in FAMU’s legendary Marching “100” band, known internationally for its innovative and showstopping performances.
The band played with Prince at the 2007 Super Bowl XLI halftime show during her tenure and supported other high-profile entertainers. “We also performed with Gucci Mane, Waka Flocka, DJ Khaled, Kanye West and Jamie Foxx, and others,” she said.
After earning her Bachelor of Science in Music in 2012, Douglas wanted to keep learning. But she wasn’t convinced a traditional graduate program was the right option. Her style and approach to music were unique, and she didn’t see herself fitting in.
“I was definitely done with school,” she remembered. “I had felt [like] ‘Nobody understands me, nobody’s going to get it. There isn’t a place for me.'” That changed when she became interested in music technology and learned about SUU’s online degree options.
“Going to Southern Utah helped me to fuse my thoughts and realize where I can beam my laser at right now, to get ahead,” she said. “And how I could do that in the academic realm.”
Douglas flourished in the music technology performance program, and she now credits her professors and classmates with helping accelerate her development as an artist.
“The work was purposeful,” she said. “It was immediately applicable to my life.”
Embracing Digital Tools and Research
The program introduced Douglas to tools that are now integral to all aspects of her work, including MIDI orchestration and digital audio workstation (DAW) technology for live and studio recording.
“It was like light bulbs came on when I was going through it. Just learning about how to make samples and how to create drum kits and things like that,” she recalled. “Using the DAWs, learning more about the digital notation softwares.”
Douglas found interacting with other students beneficial as well, enjoying the sense of community the program fostered. “Especially in classes where we had to do discussion, I felt like it was a great way to network and get to know other people in the field,” she said.
One of her favorite aspects of the program was the creative research component “and falling in love with it really,” she said. As part of her research, she developed ideas for incorporating oral traditions of the African Diaspora in her compositions, including spirituals, spoken word and hip-hop. Coursework also gave her the chance to experiment with new ways of presenting her music.
“My experiences at SUU were certainly mind altering. I learned so many new ways to express the things inside my head,” she said. “I was exposed to things that elevated my perception of what a musical composition could be in this technological era.”
Douglas used the skills and insight she gained during the program to complete her final capstone project, “Tray” (2018). The symphonic multimedia performance piece for flute, clarinet and horn addressed Trayvon Martin’s death and its aftermath, as well as other tragic events that inspired the Black Lives Matter movement.
The flexibility of learning online also allowed Douglas to continue traveling for touring opportunities and artist residencies, and working directly with orchestras performing her music, while earning her degree.
Building on Success by Giving Back
Now that she’s an SUU online faculty member, Douglas especially likes teaching courses that she enjoyed as a grad student, such as Popular Music History/Theory. She’s also busy earning her Doctor of Musical Arts in Composition degree at the University of Memphis.
Her website highlights other aspects of her professional career as well as her ongoing advocacy for music education, which now includes bringing technology to band classes and players of all ages. Her favorite part of passing that knowledge down is giving others access to the same tools and ideas that changed her perspective on her craft.
Her goal is to encourage more young musicians to stay in the field by demonstrating how they can showcase their skills, make a living and build a sustainable career. With each new venture she pursues, Douglas continues to be a great role model for how it’s done.
She has formed a production company with her husband, Dontay, who was also nominated for a GRAMMY for producing ”Full Circle.” They now produce and record other artists and handle music publishing. The company also provides resources for schools in underserved communities, including arrangements, clinics and drill designs for marching bands.
In addition, she has new pieces premiering at the Georgia Music Educators Association Conference and the College Band Directors National Association Southern Division Conference in 2024, among other projects.
As she builds on her success, Douglas remains satisfied that SUU offered her the exact experience she needed to take the next step in her career, expanding the scope of both her artistry and her business knowledge.
“It was just empowering overall,” she noted. “It augmented my income-achieving ability substantially.” Douglas believes the program can do the same for anyone who wants a career in music.
“It’s there for you, take advantage of it,” she said. “Hop on.”