Joyl Clance and Herbert Smith

Recorded July 31, 2021 Archived July 31, 2021 40:42 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: mby020932


Joyl Clance (40) interviews her colleague Herbert "Herb" Smith (52) about his work as a musician. They discuss Herbert being the only black musician in the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, the impact playing trumpet has had on his life, and the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on his work.

Subject Log / Time Code

HS describes his background and how he came to Rochester. He talks about how he started playing the trumpet, and the places the instrument has taken him.
HS describes the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on his work, and the ways in which he has needed to pivot.
HS talks about the Gateways Orchestra -- an orchestra of all black musicians -- and the virtual Gateways Music Festival.
HS discusses a performance he and his trio did at The Little Theater in Rochester. He describes what it was like to perform on a stage without an audience.
HS talks about lessons he's learned during the pandemic. He describes his experience getting COVID, and how the trumpet helped him through it.
HS talks about living life to the fullest, and remembers performing at a Black Lives Matter rally. JC and HS discuss the importance of having the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra's audience accurately reflect the population of Rochester.
HS describes a concert he did in a field. JC asks HS about words of wisdom. HS reflects on the word fear, and the ways in which fear can hinder us.


  • Joyl Clance
  • Herbert Smith

Recording Location

Virtual Recording


Partnership Type




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00:03 Hello, my name is Herb Smith. I am 52 years old. Today's date is Saturday, July 31st, 2021. I'm calling in from Rochester. New York. My conversation partner. Today is Joy El clamps. She's a colleague. I work with her at wxxi and I'm very happy to have her interview me. Hello. I'm Joy owl. Clan. My age is 40 and today's date is Saturday, July 31st. 2021. My location where I'm calling in from is Rochester, New York. My conversation partner is Herb Smith. And my relationship to Herb is a colleague, pure and becoming a friend when I got into work with him. Through wxxi public media.

01:06 Well, hello herb. Is my pleasure. It really is my pleasure because this is an opportunity for me to get to know you more. You know, I've gotten to work with you and some unique settings and it's been virtual. And so, here we are still there. Do you want to start with who? Who, who is Herb Smith? Do you know? Give me a little bit more about your background and how you got to Rochester?

01:51 Well, I I play in the Rochester Philharmonic. Orchestra. I am the third trumpet in the orchestra. I am the only black musician in the orchestra. I am actually the first black musician in the orchestra in the entire history of full-time musician, in the entire history of the organization being a, you know, for Paving the way for others, you want to be the first but you don't want to be the last, we know, LOL, like I am actually

02:33 I am actually actively working so that I am not the last and we can talk about that later. I'm a kid Cincinnati. Ohio, Cincinnati. That's amazing. I did not know that. Okay, cool, and that was again, playing trumpets.

03:11 And starting in fourth grade 9 year old kid.

03:16 And made my way through different schools and everything. Until I came to Rochester to go to Eastman School of Music, got a scholarship to go there with scholarship for a black trumpet player. It was through Wynton Marsalis and the Eastman School. And I'm here. I came here to go to school and never left the state. But now that I live in Rochester, you know, I'm especially grateful that you haven't left because you were on our home stage show at the Little Theater. I that WS6. I own. I just was blown away by your talent and then

04:16 What does it feel like in? Tell me about your instrument, tell me more about your trumpet.

04:23 Well, you know, starting trumpet, as a nine-year-old kid. You really don't know what you're doing. Like is just kind of like, okay.

04:35 Trombonist weird to a huge food is too small, you know, like, you know the sound of it, like the player played the chief, my teacher played at the sound of it, sounded good to me, I guess, you know, and so I just alright, let's try, you know, fast forward to now and I'm thinking about all the different places that the trumpet is taking me, you know, like, you know in 6th grade I had to make a choice between going to like a music school type thing or a math School type things or you know, and in ninth grade I had to pick between

05:26 Be on the basketball team or playing first trumpet in West Side Story. What Journey are you going left or going? Right? And then it's amazing. You know it you look back at what if you had decided to play basketball? Exactly. I think about that. I think about those little decisions in the moment. You're just like a feels, right? I'll just go like that and now, you know, because of the trumpet, I've been to Paris. I've been to Germany. I've been to Japan, you know, I've been to, you know, the Alps. I've been like, all these different places because of trumpet and very much directly because of trumpet. And so, it's really just been the

06:21 Soundtrack of my life, really? Like for me it's been a real help for me to at the coke, you know, whatever is going on in the world or in my family. My daughter will never replace. It's a it's just like that's been my life since I was nine. You said Coke. You just got me thinking. I was just a great segue as the reason I got to get connected with you was because of the pandemic. And obviously

07:21 I know we're still kind of in the midst of something. It's been it's been it and a very unique year-and-a-half going into two years. You know, what, how is this expected you at the at the Rochester Philharmonic? Orchestra know how how you're performing and you must have done throughout the pain. Might tell me about that.

07:52 Wawa injector, your trumpet also takes me into conducting so because I I took conducting when I was in college and being a musician in the orchestra, you get to be in front of many conductors.

08:09 So I just really study conductors. Just love to watch what they do critique. I like it. Do that better or pretty cool. And so I've I've delved into the area of the Arena of conducting with our po so I was scheduled to conduct a series of

08:35 Of School concerts are going to be the week of

08:44 Like March March 8th 9 in 2020. That was the week that everything just shut down. Yeah, so we were going to have all of these students come in to Eastman theater. That's one of the things we do, bring the students and sat down. So then our po, we have the pivot and we did a stream. We did a live stream and we had, we said that nothing, you didn't, you didn't cancel. All right, we're going to livestream and you still were able to reach the children. The kids we had. I don't know how many points of Entry. They said, like 500 points of Entry or something like that, with two different schools. And for some of that, that one person watching the watching.

09:44 Screen for some of those. It was like entire lunch rooms with the screen listening to the concert. And so we had to Pivot and do that. So we decided to not bring the kids, all the kids in, try to make that happen. And I wonder what it was like for experience what that was like for those kids. Because this isn't the first time that they were having something, right, but how great because music is one of the most

10:28 Me, Maybe food, right? Music and food brings people together. Your culture doesn't matter history, you know what music is people love music and I just I think that's wonderful that you still got the conduct. But of course not, I got to be really still hard and bitter sweet for you. Huh? Not getting to do it live concerts in out in front of all these kids and then they decided to just change it to one concert at the end of the week. And we got all of our streaming and things together. And, and I conducted and I have to get my script together and all that. But I was the last concert that are Theo played in Eastman theater, still have not played a concert in art.

11:28 Still have not played a concert in Houston theater yet conducting. So it's kind of a pivot that you have to make you know, and so for me as a conductor not feel had the pivot, you know as a musician an RPO, you know, many are concerts just came to a halt and we started doing some streams but at that point they were trying to do just strings because I didn't want you know, trumpets blowing air and say no. No that was yes, you know singing. I know we were I was canceling things left and right and that led me to co-producing car p h which was the live Facebook show. We did every Friday during the beginning of the pandemic and that's how I was introduced.

12:28 Through my house that we brought in from the RPO, still it, you know, it's it's it's incredible. This community that we have here because all we're just coming together to try to support one another. Did you feel that? Did you feel that sense of community? One of the things that really helped we're like colleges were reaching out to musicians to do virtual master classes. And I one of the things that is a trip when I'm sitting here talking to you on this wonderful Mike, but I'm talking into like all of this stuff here that I'm looking at him. Looking at this Mike. I'm looking at my interface. I got another Mike here. I got two different lighting things here.

13:28 A high-def camera, like all of this stuff just did not exist before the pandemic. This is all part of the pivot that that, that we had to make. And so it really put us, put me into a whole different Realm.

13:49 I am I play in a brass quintet, call the gateways brass Collective and we had

13:57 We have concerts scheduled in Baltimore. Are we have one scheduled in California? We had some it some in Atlanta. We had and more wear on their way and all that stuff just quit. So one of the things that we did do to Pivot is do virtual recordings where I would send out a click track.

14:25 To the back to the, to the, to the group. And it would just be Tik, Tik Tik Tik, right. And then they would have their music and then they play their part, send it to me and then I play my part. But it on top, you know, video. When do we put it all together? Like I mean, there was so many of these that we're going on during the pandemic, but it with the real tip it for me. Because here now I'm a sound engineer now. Like I'm like, okay, I don't know anything about this. Like, okay. I'm trying to put in reverbs and, you know, and adjust the clip, do all this stuff and write. Yes. Yes, a whole different thing. But again, that's part of that pivot really forced us to do. And I'm

15:25 I'm better off for it. And unfortunately, we couldn't allow that the safety and end but that's okay because that technology is allowing us to be together right now. And this is where where are you still getting the share stories and represent this beautiful Community partner here with wxxi. No gateways. Music Festival is a a festival of all

16:19 Black musicians of the African diaspora and and they bring musicians from all over the country with there's some people from the outside of the country to form this Orchestra of all black musicians. It's fantastic. I mean, for me to be the only black person in Rochester Philharmonic, and a lot of these players that are in this gateways are the only or the 12 and they're the real sight to see, that's like, like, you know, something that I've never experienced besides being in this gateways because we, we were, we are a media partner for this every year and still being yours and Ariel, this is new.

17:19 By the amount of programming and live concerts conversation, different things that was available to the community and especially during the time of black lives matter and different things that Rochester and his experience going to let you know that that it has to be so significant and, you know, kudos to all of you and gateways that do the performances, you put that together because it really is. So impactful to this community is like

18:08 To be around.

18:11 Your can people that look like you which, you know, people going to come like it. People that look like you. It really makes it really makes a difference when you're there, you playing, you looking around, you know, and I was so happy that they were able to Pivot again that word and like the brass quintet, my gateways breath Collective. We were able to be a part of that virtual Festival of different. There was a, there was a string group. They're all these different groups that it sent in Virtual thing. Anthony McGill, who plays in the New York City or Chicago count, send them their stuff. To make this virtual Festival possible and it was really, really, really fantastic and and just do I can throughout the fan. Pandemic. There were just many like I did a master class a pot, stay at Eastman School of Music called.

19:11 Need to do a master class there. I didn't match the class at some hbcus. You know, I did like some classes at libraries that were doing virtual, things like that where the city people were reaching out to to try to keep something going. But it helped that helped the musicians in the city to be able to, you know, keep food on your table during income payment for their services right? Like that's important your valued and I was I'm so thankful that I work for an organization that

20:11 Musician for their time and their talent. One of the things that helped out was home stage at the little plastic event. Where my Trio, the Freedom Trail. We were able to play at the stage at the little all connected with with. Wxxi. And then, let me cool. BB chord it it's this 30 minutes show that. Oh my goodness. It's so well for Tuesday, and it's just so great and people alive, not send them the link and like, I know. And that was that such that was at a great time because it really was a two-fold thing for me. One it was

20:56 It was allowing me to have that musical expression that

21:02 Down here in my office. I can't do on my own but we still were able to play. And then also like at that time, that was in Cam and I are coming in, which I can say as a musician, you know, it's like when it rains, it, pours, but it's not raining there. It's a drought. Where can I get to events on? That's my industry station engagement that. I was the same way. I had to go to work with national National a national artist. I was connecting with people. I had never dreamed of getting to me.

22:02 That because they could come to the virtual face. We could now connect with each other, you know, when organizations don't always have the funding to fly an artist National artist. They don't really think about supporting local artists that even if it was for a few months, it was something that support the community and bring us together and people like he's been celebrating with a hundred years, right? Is it a centennial? Yeah, if we try the RPO, we try to just join together. Hochstein School of Music, you know, I got all of these, great, great. We're so lucky with the Rochester is just out of cupola of music and Facilities.

23:02 That perform, right? It was a trip because

23:18 Inside like a specially, put the tree up there is this and what the trio for me? It's my compositions that we're playing, too. So they're just all just embedded in my heart and different.

23:34 Instances and occurrences are all in the music. So so it's very charged with emotion. And when you play for an audience, it's like you're playing and you giving your all, you know, you look up with Auntie if you see somebody bobbing their heads and that's enough to kind of like connecting with you. But with no audience is like you're doing that. You look up. Okay. There's no one here. You have to just kind of keep that going and then like you play this please you get through it to get to the end. It's over.

24:10 Nothing, but we do. Have you ever think about anything about it, which was interesting is like with the cameraman. It's like they're not going to be shaking or moving anything as you want to keep the shot still, you know, so it's like thumbs up hard for me. Being so isolated as somebody whose main job is engagement and events and I'm in the community like on in the field weekly daily, right? All the sudden to be so isolated. I can imagine a little bit of what that my feels like looking out at an empty audience, you know, and

25:10 And it has taught us a lot of things. You know, what do you feel work? A couple lessons that you have taken so far out of the pandemic and out of this time? This past year, whether it's around blacklivesmatter or it's around being a musician and stirring up the pandemic. Well, one of it, one of the lessons that I learned is just change.

25:43 Change is good. I am with you and and you have to contact me to find a kid over the curve of it, a bit. But if you can be aware that what you're feeling is an uncomfortableness brought on by change, then you can actually lead into the change lead into the uncomfortable feeling, and it comes always comes out better. I mean, I actually had covid. I actually had covid and I didn't and I didn't have the

26:31 Oh, no, symptoms covid, 3 days, and I'm good. No, I didn't have that code that I had the

26:40 I was out of it. I was really out of it and

26:53 Like it did not scare me because I was in it in it. I was dealing with it. I

27:04 The 10 and one of the things that helped me was the trumpet trumpet. Help me get through covid because I figured that my my sister told me to get a pulse oximeter. Think I have it right here yet a little pulse. Oximeter, oxygen level should be like around 98, or 96, or higher 98th, and if it gets down to nine.

27:41 If it goes below 90, you should go to the hospital. And when it gets down to below 90, then basically, you should get basically get on a respirator. But there's a my pulse ox, but get to 90. It will get right down to 90. And I figured out that with my partner while she's a doctor, we figured out that if I walked if I got up and walked and kind of move my lungs and I would be coughing, just crazily.

28:15 And then after I would walk I would like walk around the block or something. Come back, check. My pulse ox. My pot stocks will go up and then the other enough. The other thing I figured that was trumpet.

28:28 If I play the trumpet, you know, I will be coughing or whatever. I would just start playing my trumpet that also brought my pulse ox up, you know how? And when one of the things like I can change like going through that change.

28:49 I was able to, like, once I started healing, then I wrote this piece called healing and and I, I, I kind of felt like I couldn't write music because, like, everything in my inside of me was like, get healthy, like might like spirituality, thoughts, physical, or emotional everything like my whole body was like, we're trying to get you healthy and then when I was able to sit down and write music, I thought I'm healing. Now, I can feel it. I can feel I'm healing and that piece that I wrote.

29:29 Was played by RPO. It's it's going to be one of the pieces that were conducting the concert August 31st, and, and I'll be playing that peace in our Bo called healing in in in, in the middle of that piece. There's a Langston Hughes poem that I use called go slow. So so in the Middle School in the midst of all that stuff, really really, really, really learn.

30:12 In such an experience. I knew several people. It was a scary weed and ended up being like a false positive situation, but you always do you believe in that to 100% 100% like live life to the fullest? And then the other thing is that there really aren't. I mean when I say this it seems weird but like there really aren't any boundaries. I mean, I know that there's in this country. There are so many issues with

30:59 Black and brown people, especially black males and then being held back and being harmed and killed and the things you've been saying that I'm doing that right here in your own Community, to the spirituality of that, you know, there's no boundaries for us. And I mean like, hear me this kid from Cincinnati, Ohio.

31:35 Ends up conducting the Rochester Philharmonic. Orchestra doing Fanfare for the common, man at a black lives matter rally, you know, and that was to me. That was so big for me because

31:51 The Army has never.

31:54 I've never really expressed any kind of people was better if they play to all and again.

32:15 I was, I was I said this to the CEO. I was just like the Rochester Philharmonic, Orchestra. Orchestra is really the suburbs of Rochester Philharmonic, Orchestra. It's not the city of Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. And we need to do things that, you know, support looks like when you as a conductor, even though sometimes your back has to be hot. Even when you play. Yes, you do you want you want your concerts to reflect the, the, you know, the people Rochester 30% black.

33:04 It's 30% black and our concert do not reflect that. And that was part of like my what I was trying to do plaits for black lives matter, black lives matter rally.

33:17 You do really?

33:19 It was good for the orchestra, but it was good for me because one of the one of my philosophies is

33:27 Whatever you do.

33:30 Wherever you do it.

33:33 Find the inequalities there and help and whatever field you do. Like. I'm not a

33:42 You know, I'm not a doctor and I'm not going to be. I don't necessarily going to go and work at Food kitchens and stuff like that, soup kitchens and stuff. That's not really what I do. I'm a musician. So, how can I do what I do to help?

34:00 Right, right by your field or what? Whatever your passions are. I wouldn't ask you and see how you can apply that out there to change right where you are and where you are and then that and then it doesn't feel self-serving, you know, and

34:26 Give out groceries to Eminem. So, like one of the, one of the things that I have done is being in the orchestra. I am on the orchestra committing, an orchestra committee Works through the union and through the management. 22 to make different changes in the orchestra. So I'm trying to work, you know, inside the orchestra to help. I was on the committee, you know, all these different things that I that I do musically to try to help.

35:11 Good, that's a good question, We can do virtual and now we're starting to get to do live live concerts again, and we can record and we can create things virtually every cord just for content to write the green, just get excited at the opportunity and I kind of want to go back to something fun that I have heard about some concert in a field. Can you tell me what the heck is that about battles of the pandemic? I was called to do this concert with my Trio. And it was at my friend, Barney, has a barn, and he has his big field and he got concert concert.

36:11 But they couldn't do concerts in the barn. So what he did was he set up this outdoor stage and my Trio set up, you know, and we had masks on and everything and we were socially distant, but the audience drove up in cars and they have, the cars all lined up kind of different spots. You had a kind of a spot in between the movie would be later in their pies and some people just stayed in the car. And then after we played a piece that they enjoyed the Hong Kong, if you can call up there and stuck with me how much they appreciated it, but it's a great thing for us again. That was another one of those like again.

37:11 I'm having such a great visual. You painted. Such a great visual. I can just see it and I can't, I really wish I was sitting in one of those cars and could be honking my horn at you play fantastic, you know what your words of wisdom, you know, coming still coming through with the other side of the pandemic, Noah's things are popping up in the news. And we don't really know with with with in the in front of us. Know where, where are you taking yourself in the future and you are, what kind of words of wisdom? Do you have for those listening?

37:52 Well, I think

37:56 An old friend of mine said, you know about the word fear.

38:03 And in good with would mean false evidence appearing real.

38:13 False evidence appearing real. And I think

38:18 Beer.

38:20 Stops us from doing so many different things. It keeps you in your lane.

38:26 If it makes you stay in your lane and

38:32 If you think that fear is false evidence appearing, real, then when you're dealing with different races, when you're dealing with different, you know, if Nyssa tease, when you're dealing with different sexual, orientations, whatever, it is, false evidence appearing, real. That's the only reason why you would exclude

38:57 Write John, I wrote that down so many people in rightfully, so because there was so much death involved and it's really it's hard to not be fearful.

39:17 But you can't let your debilitate. You, I'm so grateful that you stayed in Rochester. I hope you never leave us. Would either way. I know how to get you hurt. I will be at, we are so lucky to get their work with you and I can't. Thank you enough for just sharing so much about yourself and with me and live in. And also how much you give to this community and how much you're you're doing to pay the way the generations behind us, and those right now and this community and getting them to kind of look at themselves and think about Shane. I know you've left me with some really hard.

40:17 Thoughts and I I appreciate you a real pleasure to be a part of this and Joelle. Thank you so much. It's just been really great working with you and and you made this experience just completely enjoyable.