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Trombone Maestro

Doctoral student Alexis Smith (’22) on why the trombone is like a field goal kicker

Since picking up a trombone at 10, Alexis Smith (’22) hasn’t considered any other occupation. The doctoral student has devoted her career to the instrument. She’s the principal trombonist for the Southwest Florida Symphony Orchestra, plays with the Boston Trombone Project (which she cofounded), and is a sales associate for S. E. Shires Company where she helps world-class musicians customize brass instruments. Oh, and she toured with Adele.

First trombone encounter

I went to band camp—it was like an instrument petting zoo. When I told my mother that I really liked trombone, she said it wasn’t very ladylike and that I should try flute. I thought, “Well, if it annoys my mother, I would like to play this instrument.”

The trombone sounds like…

We grow up hearing “bom-bom-bom,” like it’s the buffoon of the orchestra. But, actually, the trombone has beautiful, lyrical capabilities. It’s probably the closest instrument to the human voice because it can emulate all of these small notes.

Trombone’s orchestral role

I think of it as a field goal kicker. We don’t do anything for a long time—and then, at the most exciting part, we come in and everyone gets super excited.

Favorite piece of music

Mahler’s second symphony. There’s a beautiful trombone choral in it. The New York Philharmonic did a 9/11 remembrance concert and they played Mahler 2, the resurrection symphony. Everybody was sobbing.

What you do as trombone sales associate

Every part of the trombone is customized from alloy to weight to tapers. We have musicians fly in from all over the world and they play for me. Then I fit them for a horn. It’s a sound puzzle.

Playlist right now

I’m listening to a Balkan brass band. But my favorites are later Beatles and Led Zeppelin.

Strangest performance venue

I did a cabaret show at Joe’s Pub in New York. They put me in a costume and I was like, “What is happening?” The night before, I was playing Elgar at Juilliard.

Wait, we heard you played on a viking ship. Surely that’s stranger than a pub…

I forgot about that! The Icelandic rock band Sigur Rós wrote a piece for a brass quintet. We would get on a viking ship in Central Park’s Harlem Meer and just drift around all day playing.

Best Adele moment

She would start off the show with “Hello,” which I didn’t play on. I’d listen to the scream of the crowd, the excitement, and people would be crying. It was amazing.

Reaction when people hear what you do

They share that they played recorder as kids. It’s like me going up to a surgeon and being like, “When I was in fifth grade, I played the game Operation.”

What you would be doing without trombone

I’ve thought about this a lot. I have no idea.