Herbert Smith and Joyl Clance
Recorded July 31, 2021
Hello, my name is Herb Smith. I am 52 years old. Today's date is Saturday July 31 2021. I'm calling in from Rochester, New York. My conversation partner today is joy l Clance. She's a colleague. I've worked with her at WXXI and I'm very happy to have her interview.
Hello, I'm Joyl Clance. My age is 40. And today's date is Saturday, July 31 2021. My location where I'm calling in from is Rochester, New York. My conversation partner is Herb Smith. And my relationship to her job is a colleague peer and becoming a friend. I've gotten to work with him through WX Xi public media station out of Rochester. Well, hello, Herb, I thank you for taking the time to be a part of this incredible opportunity with StoryCorps
It’s my pleasure. It really is my pleasure.
I want to dive in because this is an opportunity for me as well to 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 virtual. You, you know, I want to start with who who is Herb Smith, that you know, give me a little bit more about your background and how you got to Rochester.
Well, 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.
Thank you for being a pathfinder, you know, for paving the way for the others.
I just read something that's like, you know, you want to be the first but you don't want to be the last. Like I am actually I am actually actively working so that I am not the last. And we can talk about that later.
Oh yeah, we're gonna get into that. Yes. But um, yeah, so there I am a kid, Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnati, Ohio.
I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio.
I know. That's amazing.
That's amazing. I didn't know that. Okay, cool.
When did you move to New York.
I moved to Rochester in 1987. And that was again playing trumpet. And starting in fourth grade nine year old kid and made my way through different schools and everything. Until I came to Rochester to go to Eastman School of Music. Yeah, I got a scholarship to go there was a scholarship for a black trumpet player. It was through Wynton Marsalis and an Eastman School and and I'm here I can't go to school and never left.
We're so grateful that you never left first of all, I I ended up moving. More upstate. But now that I live in Rochester, you know, I'm especially grateful that you haven't left because we are you talented, sir. Thank you. When when i You were on our home stage on show at the Little Theatre that WX Xi owns. I just was blown away by your talent. I mean, you're just what does it feel like and tell me about your instrument? Tell me more about your trumpet.
Well, you know, starting trumpet as a nine year old kid, you really don't know what you're doing. Like it's just kind of like, okay, trombone is weird. This huge flute is too small, you know? Like, okay, I guess that trumpet seemed like the right one. I just just kind of picked it you know? The sound of it like the the player play the cheat my teacher played it. The sound of it sounded good to me, I guess you know, and so I just Alright, let's try it. Yeah, then, you know, fast forward to now. And I'm thinking about all the different places that the trumpet has taken me. You know, like, you know, in sixth grade, I had to make a choice between going to, like a music school type thing or a man school type thing. So, music school, you know, and in ninth grade, I had to pick between being on the basketball team or playing first trumpet in West Side Story. Like, both of them had rehearsals practices in there, like I'm on her, you know, yeah, you got to pick one. So it's like, what journey? Are you going left or going right? And then it's amazing. You know, like, you look back, it's, what if you had decided to play basketball?
Exactly. I think about that. I think about those little decisions in a moment. You're just like, okay, trumpet feels, right. 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. I'm very much directly because of trumpet. And so it's really just been the soundtrack of my life really, like. The trumpet just is just right there. In and it's been, you know, for me, it's been a real help for me to, to cope. I come back, come down here in my office, I come down here and you know, whatever's going on in the world, or in my family or my daughter, whomever? Yeah, it's your turn. It's my place like, brown or your inner happy place to write?
It is? Yeah, it's a happy place. But it's a workplace. It's a, it's just like, it's been my life since I was nine.
So it's also it's home. Yes. Right. At home. Yes. Yeah. You know, you said, Koch, you just got me thinking I was just a great segue. As, you know, the reason I got to get connected with you was because of the pandemic. And obviously, other we're still kind of in the mix of some things. It's been it's been it, and you have a very unique year and a half going into two years. In a what, how is this affected you at the at the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra? You know, how has it affected you and your trio and how you're performing and all the pivoting that you must have done throughout the pandemic? Tell me about that?
Well, so following the trajectory of trumpet also takes me into conducting. So because I've, I took conducting when I was in college, and being a musician in the orchestra, you get to be in front of many conductors. So I just really study conductors just love to watch what they do critique, I could do that better, or Oh, wow, that's pretty cool. That you know, and so I've, I've delved into the area, the arena of conducting with with RPO. So I was scheduled to conduct a series of, of school concerts and theater, it was a week long thing. Those concerts were going to be the week of like, march, march, 8, ninth and 2020. Yeah, that was the week that everything just shut down. And so we were going to have all of these students come into Eastman Theater, that's one of the things we do bring the students and all of them have come to the concert that all shut down. So then RPO we had to pivot. And we did a stream. We did a live stream. And we had viewers still conducting, but it was nothing. Okay, so you got it. You You didn't have you didn't cancel ICCU just all of a sudden said Alright, we're gonna live stream this. And you still were able to reach the children. The kids?
Yes, yes, we had. I don't know how many points of entry they said like 500 points of entry, or something like that with different schools. And for some of that, that's one person watching the watching the screen. For some of those. It was like entire lunch rooms with a 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 It was so smart, first of all, and how great that you could all quickly, you know, collaborate and make that happen. And I wonder what it was like for with the X experience what that was like for those kids, because this is the first time that they were having something virtual right. But how great because music is one of the most to me. Maybe food, right? music and food brings people together. Yes, it does it really the music, it doesn't matter your background, it doesn't matter. Your your culture doesn't matter history. You know, music is people love music. And I just I think that's wonderful that you still got to conduct but of course, that probably had to be really still hard and bittersweet for you, huh? Not getting to do it live.
Yes. I mean, it was really bittersweet. Because, you know, here I am, I was slated to do like four concerts, you know, 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 the thing together, and I conducted and I had to get my script together and all that. But I was the last concert that RPO played in Eastman Theater, they still have not played a concert in art, and we still have not played a concert in Eastman theatre yet. That was the last concert my conducting so it's kind of this pivot that you have to make, you know, and so for me as a conductor, and RPO had the pivot, you know, as a musician, and RPO. You know, many our concerts just came to a halt. Yeah, we came to a halt. And we started doing some streams. But at that point, they were trying to do just strings. Because they didn't want you know, trumpets blowing air and right No, no face to face. It was yeah, no, no singing. I know, we were I was canceling things left and right. And that that's what led me to co producing harpy Hour, which was the live Facebook show we did every Friday, during the beginning of the pandemic. And that's how I was introduced to you through my host that we brought in from the RPO. So it you know, it's, it's it's incredible this community that we have here, because we all were just coming together to try to support one another. Did you feel that? Did you feel that sense of community?
Yes, totally felt that sense. That was just one of the things that really helped were like colleges, were reaching out to musicians to do virtual masterclasses and I one of the things that is a trip and I'm sitting here talking to you on this wonderful mic that I'm talking into sound amazing.
No, but it's like all of this stuff. Here. I'm looking at I'm looking at this mic, I'm looking at my interface. I got another mic here, I got two different lighting things here. I bought a high def camera, like all of this stuff just did not exist before the pandemic is all part of the pivot that that we had to make. And so it really put us put me into a whole different realm where i i play in a brass quintet called the gateways brass collective. And we had, we had concerts scheduled in Baltimore, we have one scheduled in California, we had some that some in Atlanta, we had and more we're 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 to the back to the to the to the group, and it would just be tick, tick, tick, tick, right. And then they would have their music and then they play their part. Send it to me, and then I play my part, put it on top, you know, all together, and then we put it all together and this is recording that sounds fantastic. But we you know, no one's near each other. Right? Then you record your video and we put it all together like I mean, there was so many of these that were going on during a pandemic. It was a real pivot 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 gonna put in reverbs. And, you know, and adjust the clip, do all this stuff and a whole different type of a tech check, right?
Yes, yes, a whole different thing. But again, that's part of that pivot thing that COVID really forced us to do. And I'm telling you, I'm better off for it.
I agree with you. I mean, look at what we're getting to do right now. I mean, now StoryCorps initially was gonna get to come to Rochester in person. And unfortunately, we couldn't allow that and for the safety, and, and but that's okay. Because that technology is allowing us to be together right now in this virtual booth, where we're, you know, still getting to share stories and represent this beautiful community. And, you know, go back to gateways because gateways is such a big partner here with WX Xi. Talk more to me about the virtual clinics and fast festivals. masterclasses you were talking about?
Yeah, so, so gateways Music Festival is a festival of all black musicians of the African diaspora. And, and they bring musicians from all over. Well, it was the country, but there are some people from 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 one, two, and they're presented their area, right. And then we all come together. And it was just a real sight to see. It's like, like, you know, something that I've never experienced, besides being in this gateways.
Yeah. And the first time I experienced it was virtually, because we, we were, we're a media partner for this every year, and I'm still being newer to the area like, this was new having to go virtual. I was blown away of that by the amount of programming, and live concerts, conversations, different things that was available to the community. And, and I mean, especially during the time of Black Lives Matter, and different things that Rochester is experienced in a rough way, this past year, you know, that, that there has to be so significant. And, you know, kudos to all of you, and gateways that do the performances and put that together, because it really is so impactful to this community.
Yeah, I mean, it's, it's just to me, it's more than just playing music. Yeah. You know, it really is like to be around your kin, people that look like you which it's, you know, peoples are kind of like, people that look like you it really makes it really makes a difference. When you're there you're playing, you're looking around, you know, and I was so happy that they were able to pivot again that word, I know it's stronger and I love it to make the festival virtual and like the brass quintet, my gateways brass Collective, we were able to be a part of that virtual festival different. There was a, there was a string group, there were all these different groups that that sent in virtual things. Anthony McGill, who plays in the New York City of Chicago comm send sends in their stuff that make this virtual festival possible. And it was really, really, really fantastic. And, and just due again, throughout the fan pandemic, there were just many like I did a masterclass at Potsdam Eastman School of Music called me to do a masterclass there. I did a master class at some HBCUs you know, I did like some classes at libraries that were doing virtual so it's little, it's things like that, where the city people were reaching out to, to try to keep something going, but that helped the musicians in the city to be able to, you know, keep food on your table.
I was just gonna say is this. I mean, this is how you make your income, right? Yes, yes. So and it's so important to us here at WX X. I knew that musicians do receive that they receive payment for their services, right? Like, that's important to us, and it's your valued. And I was, I'm so thankful that I work for an organization that allows us to pay musicians for their time and their talents.
Well, one of the things that helped out was homestays, at the little. Yeah. Which was a fantastic event, where my trio The Freedom trio, we were able to play at the stage a little all connected with with WX exci. And then that'd be cool. We've recorded it, it's this 30 minutes show that Oh, my goodness, it's so well produced. And it's just so great. And people have, you know, I'll send them the link and then like, oh, wow, Herb is so. And that was at such and was at a great time, because it really was a two fold thing for me. One it was, it was allowing me to have that musical expression. That down here in my office, I can't do on my own. You were on a stage again, we were on a stage the trio was was socially distance, there was no audience, but we still were able to play WoW. And, and then also, like, at that time, that was income coming in, which I can say as a musician, you know, it's important. Like when it rains, it pours that rain in it's a drought so well, I you know, and events in general, and it's so we're connected through events, that's my industry, as station engagement and events person here that, you know, I was the same way I had to go virtual. But that opened me up to work with national national X national artists, on I was connecting with people at never remotely dreamed of getting to meet that because they could come to this virtual space, we could now connect with each other on you know, in organizations don't always have the funding to fly in artists, national artists, they don't you know, plus, we're really big about supporting local artists. But this was a nice balance, you know, I doing a harpy hour with you, for example, was a mix of national and local. And in that even if it was, for a few months, it was something that support the community and bring us together and people like Eastman, who's celebrating, what, 100 years, right? Yes. Is it a centennial? Yeah. And, you know, we try the RPO we try to just join together Hochstein School of Music, you know, like all of these great, great, we're so lucky with the Rochester is just got a Prafulla of music and facilities that perform right? You said earlier, no audience what, what was it? Like? You know, what was it? Would it feel like the first time you're on stage performing to no audience, it was a trip because inside, like, especially with the tree, there is this and with the trio, for me, it's my compositions that we're playing to. So they're just all just embedded in my heart and different 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're giving your all, you know, you look up at the audience and you see somebody bobbing their head up in their foot. And that's enough to kind of like, okay, someone's connecting with you. But with no audience, it's like, you're doing that you look up, okay? There's no one here, okay? You have to just kind of keep that going. And then like, you play this piece, you get through it, get to the end, boom, it's over. Nothing. And the thing about it, which was interesting is like, with the cameramen, it's like, they're not gonna be shaking or moving anything because you want to keep the shot still, you know? So it's like, Yo, like, respectfully try to clap and cheer you on, right? Or like, or like, kind of wave at yourself?
Some thumbs up. Yeah, I can't imagine. Because I get my energy from people. And that this was that was really hard for me. Being so isolated as somebody whose main job is engagement and events and I'm in the community like in the field weekly, daily, right? All of a sudden to be so isolated, I can imagine a little bit of what that might be feels like looking out at an empty audience, you know, and it's, and, but it, it has taught us a lot of things, you know, what do you feel were 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 Black Lives Matter, or it's around being a musician, and during the pandemic, what were some lessons that you've learned?
Well, one of the lessons that I learned is just change. Change is good, is good, I will change is good. I mean, it doesn't necessarily feel good when it's happening. And and you have to kind of, you know, 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. Okay, I didn't, and I didn't have the Oh, no symptoms. COVID three days, and I'm good. No, I didn't have that. COVID I had the COVID Oh, I was I was out of it. I was really out of it. And let it scare you. In like, it did not scare me. Because I was in it. Yeah, you know, I was in it. I was dealing with it. I that and one of the things that helped me was the trumpet. The trumpet helped me get through COVID Because I figured I My sister told me to get a pulse oxometer think I have it right here. Yeah, a little pulse oxometer. Okay, is that what that does is it tells you your your oxygen level, pulse, ox, pulse, ox oxygen level, and it should be like around 98 or 96 or higher 98. And if it gets down to 90, 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 when there's my pulse ox, but get to 90, it will get right down to 90. And I figured out that with my partner, she's a higher Vedic IR Vedic 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. And then after I would walk, I would like walk around the block or something. Come back, check my pulse ox, my Pawsox will go up. And then yeah, and that's the other thing I figured out was trumpet. If I played the trumpet, you know, I would be coughing or whatever, I would just start playing my trumpet that also brought my pulse ox up.
Wow, you know, it's pushed through the coughing. I push through that. Wow. And, and one of the things like, again, change, like going through that change. I was able to, like, once I started healing, then I wrote this piece called healing. And, and I, I kind of felt my, like, I couldn't write music, because like, everything in my inside of me was like, get healthy, like, my, like, spirituality, thoughts, physical, 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, was played by RPO it's going to be one of the pieces that we're I'm conducting a concert August 31. And, and I'll be playing that piece in our FBO called Healing and in the middle of that piece, there's a Langston Hughes poem that I use called Go slow. So so in the in the midst of all that stuff, yeah, you know, there's more
Change is good. No, it is good, just good. Like, that's one of the things I really, really, really, really learn with a really good attitude that you have to come out of that. And, and it's such an experience, you know, I, I knew several people. My father had COVID briefly for a while it was, it was it was just a scary week and ended up being like a false positive situation. But you always, you know, I've always believed in living life to the fullest. 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, it's 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 black and brown people, especially black males, and being held back and being harmed and killed and all these different things.
Yeah. And we've been seeing that and feeling that right here in your own community, this.
But there's there really is no boundaries, if you can get above that you can kind of get into the spirituality of that, you know, there's no boundaries for us. And I mean, like, hear me, this kid from Cincinnati, Ohio, 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 the arfi, the RPO, has never has never really expressed any kind of that they played to their base RPO plays to their base, and there is a certain type of people. Yeah, that was one of the things that I'm like, like, No, we, the RPO was better if they play to all and again, I was I said this to the CEO, I was just like, the Rochester Phillip Mike orca orchestra is really the suburbs of Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, right. It's not the city of Rochester. And we need to do things that, you know, support that demographic has to change, right? Change what that audience looks like, when you as a conductor, even though sometimes your back is to the audience, you when you play to that audience, you want to see a sea of color?
Yes, you do you want you want your concerts to reflect the, the, you know, the people. Yeah, Rochester is 30%, black. It's 30% Black, and our concerts do not reflect that. And that was part of like, my, what I was trying to do play for black lives, my life, Black Lives Matter rally, you know, and that, you know, really, it was good for the orchestra, but it was good for me. Because one of the one of my philosophies is, whatever you do, wherever you do it, find the inequalities there, and help in whatever field you do. Like, I'm not a, 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? Right? So that's a look look within. Right? Right. And then your area, your field, or whatever your passions are, or whatnot, do and see how you can apply that out there to change, right?
Create change, right where you are, wherever you are, and it's and then that and then it doesn't feel self serving. Like, okay, I'm just gonna go and, you know, and give out groceries to write
it off. Right? I did my deed today, my good deed, right? than that. It's, I mean, and so like one of the one of the things that I've done is being in the orchestra. I am on the orchestra committee, and orchestra committee works through the union and through the management to, to, to make different changes in the orchestra. So I'm trying to work, you know, inside the orchestra to help I was on a committee You know, all these different things that I, that I do musically to try to help?
Where do you sleep when when are you watching this, this is like, it is such a great change. But now like this hybrid of because now we know we've raised the bar now we're like we can do virtual. And now we're starting to get to do live live concerts again, and we can record and there's we can create things virtually and record just for content to write. Like, there's just like, I get excited it the opportunities, right. And I kind of want to go back to something fun that I had heard about some concert in a field. Can you tell me what, what the heck is that about?
Okay, so So during kind of the really major shutdowns of the pandemic, I was called to do this concert with my trio. And it was at my friend's barn, he has a barn and he has this big field and he concerts in his barn. But they couldn't do constant a 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 had the cars all lined up kind of different spots, you had a kind of a spot in between, like the like the outer movie would be like kind of like a dragon drive. And the cars just pulled up. And then some people would get out their cars and kind of set up in their pods. And some people just stayed in the cars. And then after we played a piece that they enjoyed big Hong Kong to say how much they appreciated it, that's such a great thing for us again, that was another one of those like, again, at that moment, is such a unique, like, I kinda have goosebumps, but I have like such a great visual, you painted such a great visual, I can just see it. And I really wish I was sitting in one of those cars and could be honking my horn at you was really fantastic. That's awesome. He was He said,
You know what? So what is your words of wisdom, you know, coming as we're still coming through the other side of the pandemic, you know, as things are popping up in the news, and we don't really know what, what's, what's in front of us, you know, Where Where are you taking yourself in the future? And, you know, are what kind of words of wisdom do you have for those listening?
Well, I think an old friend of mine said, you know, about the word fear. And, and that would mean false evidence appearing real. False Evidence Appearing Real. And I think fear stops us from doing so many different things. It keeps you in your lane. It makes you stay in your lane. And 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, FMS, ethnicities when you're dealing with different sexual orientations, whatever it is, false evidence appearing real that's the only reason why you would exclude from fear.
That's right, strong, I wrote that down.
Finger and, and go and in the pandemic, so many people and it's have so much fear about the pandemic, and, and rightfully so, because there was so much death involved. And it's really, it's hard to not be fearful. But you can't let fear debilitate you. Well, move forward, because change is good.
That's right. Well, I am so grateful that you've stayed in Rochester. I hope you never leave us but either way, I know how to get out of where we are so lucky to get to work with you and I can't thank you enough for just sharing so much about yourself and with me and with in also how much you give to this community and how much You're you're doing to pave the way for the generations behind us, and those right now in this community and getting them to kind of look at themselves and think about change. I know you've left me with some really hurtful thoughts and I, I appreciate you.
Thank you so much. It's been a real pleasure to be a part of this. And Joyl, thank you so much. It's just been really great working with you. And you made this experience just completely enjoyable. Yeah. Ditto.