We are so excited to start featuring interviews from members of military groups across the country! Our first interview is with trombonist Alaina Alster who is a member of the West Point Band here in New York. Thank you Alaina for sharing your time and thoughts with the Brass Chicks community!
Trombonist Alaina Alster has been a member of the West Point Band since 2013.
Prior to joining the West Point Band, Alaina was an active freelance musician in New York City where she enjoyed a career performing a wide range of musical genres. She is also a music educator and has worked as a teaching artist for the Phil Ramone Orchestra for Children, as well as a private music instructor.
Originally from Long Island, NY, Alaina began playing the trombone at the age of nine, but shortly after beginning switched to Euphonium. When she turned twelve she picked up trombone again and began pursing both instruments. In 2002 she was accepted to the University of Michigan as a double major in trombone and euphonium performance where she studied with David Jackson and Fritz Kaenzig. Alaina received her Masters in trombone performance from the Manhattan School of Music in 2010 and studied with Stephen Norrell.
1. Tell us a little about yourself and what you do. What group are you in?
I am a trombonist with the West Point Band. I primarily play in a wind band, brass quintet and marching band. I also continue to freelance around NYC and am a member of the quintet Collective Brass.
2. What do you love about being a musician in the military? What about being a female brass player?
I love that my job is never dull and everyday brings something different. Here are just a handful of examples of the kinds of things that could happen in any given week… Concerts for the surrounding communities, ceremonies for presidents and dignitaries, football halftime shows, various televised events, funerals, military ceremonies, parades, collaborative concerts with Juilliard, masterclasses at local schools, recording projects, playing for a cartwheel world record setting event…yes, they get pretty ridiculous sometimes!
As for being a female brass player, I am proud to be a part of a community that is pushing boundaries and helping in our way to prove that women are just as capable as men in every facet of life.
3. Having a stable and rewarding job playing for a living is something many of us strive for. Have your goals changed since you joined the group? Any future plans or projects you are a part of in addition to the group?
Yes my goals have changed a bit. The goals I set now are put in place to ensure that I keep growing and improving as a musician. Having a steady job is great, but in my particular job, there can be periods where the playing we are doing is not particularly challenging. I strive to challenge myself through my personal practice, outside projects, and just being sure that I am trying to play my best even if I am playing Stars and Stripes for the millionth time that week.
I do have some projects and groups that I am working with outside of West Point. I will be a guest artist this spring at East Tennessee State University as a part of their Low Brass Festival. I also just finished a recording project with the quintet I am a part of, Collective Brass, and we will be giving some recitals this winter and spring.
Besides that I am always eager to play with other groups when those opportunities present themselves.
4. 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?
Yes, absolutely. I wish I had realized that there would never again be a time in your life when you could dedicate as much time and energy to practicing, playing and studying all things music! I would have taken advantage of that time even more than I did. I think things only get more complicated once we are out in the real world, and all of those hours in your day will have to be allocated to so many different things. The reality is that for most of us, we will graduate without a steady job, and will likely be juggling a day job, practicing and gigging, being our own manager and promoter etc. So really enjoy that time in your life where you can just completely immerse yourself in music.
My advice for younger female musicians would be to not focus on the fact that you are female. My focus was always on playing my best and not letting my gender be any sort of a handicap. Sometimes it will seem like being a woman is putting you at a disadvantage, and other times it may actually seem like it gives you a leg up. Focus on your musicianship…it doesn’t matter what gender you identify with. Don’t give those people who judge a book by it’s cover the time of day.
5. Any resources you recommend? For example, are there any books, podcasts, recordings that changed your life, etc?
For me the resources I have turned to have been teachers, colleagues and friends. I have been surrounded by amazingly talented musicians my whole life and they have been the biggest influences on me. They have been the biggest source of knowledge and inspiration. Take time to talk to all these people in your life, ask them for advice, listen to them play, go to their shows, play with them!