Michael Smellie’s trombone case has survived 33 years of travel across North America - including as checked airline baggage - in mint condition. After one panel developed a hairline crack, Michael decided to have the panel repaired rather than replace the entire case.
“I don’t worry about the horn when it’s in that case,” says Smellie. “I’ve been fortunate and not had too many accidents. I have a recollection about it going down a long flight of stairs, but you certainly couldn’t tell from the case let alone on the instrument.”
Smellie is a busy professional musician and band director at Northbrook High School in Houston. Originally from Winnipeg, he now lives and teaches in Texas, and travels all over North America to play.
Smellie describes himself as “overprotective” of his three trombones. “I treat them very gently and take care of them.”
Cleaning involves literally giving them a bath in the tub, and going over them with a special cleaning snake. This is followed by a complete oil and grease treatment for all the parts. If Smellie’s playing the instrument a lot, this type of maintenance may be needed once a week.
When the time came to repair his trombone case, Smellie decided to take it back to Ottawa. “I have no idea how the crack happened. I wanted to repair it because I got it in 1985 but it still looks like new. It also has incredible sentimental value!”
It’s easy to understand why. Not only has the case been a constant travelling companion, Smellie originally received it as a Christmas gift from his brother and his parents. “I was 19 or 20 and really getting serious about music,” he says.
My brother brought some butcher paper over to the house and traced out the trombone to get the case built for me. He must have worked closely with Production Case while it was being built, as it’s totally custom and a perfect fit.”
The repair was also a great experience for the team here at Production Case. “The guys in the shop were really excited to see it,” enthuses Sales Manager Jim Cavill. “It’s not often one of our cases makes it back home. We were really pleased to see how good the case looked after all this time.”
Smellie comments, “I asked them to keep the old label - I like that retro look, and it’s something you can’t get anymore. I like that it has the original date and serial number.”
Making Music that Changes Lives
Part of Texas Culture
As a Band Director, Smellie and Assistant Band Director Gus Ortega manage all the music students and keep them to a very demanding rehearsal schedule.
“Down here in the US, a high school marching band is a very serious business,” Smellie explains. “In Texas, the major thing that keeps a school going is football. And where you have football, you need a marching band. The bar is set extremely high, and the bands are very high calibre.”
Bands can also be very large in some schools. “We’re about 100 musicians in our band, and that’s considered very small. One school I know of just outside Dallas has almost 1,000 students in the band.”
Marching bands practice intensively even before the school year starts. “From July 23 on there are four-day weeks of practice from 7:30 AM to 5 PM,” says Smellie. “From August 6th on it’s 4 PM to 8 PM every week day. Once school starts on August 14th, every day we practice from 3:30 to 5:30 PM.” The musicians also practice on their own on weekends.
The level of commitment these young musicians make is impressive, and reflects the hope they have for a better future.
Making a Powerful Positive Impact
Northbrook High School is located in a very economically disadvantaged area of town. Most of the students are children of undocumented immigrants.
“The culture is 99% Hispanic, with most from Central America, some Mexican,” Smellie comments. “Their families are all very poor. So we try to expose them to as much as we can, and provide experiences that they wouldn’t typically get to enjoy. We try to include as many kids as we can in the marching band, but no one has to share an instrument, everyone gets their own.”
“It’s pretty amazing how the program makes an impact.” Smellie says. There are many stories that stand out for him, but one that currently comes to mind is one young man from El Salvador.
“When he first came here he was really rough around the edges. His entire family had no choice but to leave their country to escape the drug gangs. But by the end of the year, he came up and thanked us and gave me a hug.”
The student Smellie is talking about had been forced to deal drugs as a kid in El Salvador, but when he was 12 or 13, gang members had put a gun in his hand and tried to force him to start committing murders.
“The gang threatened to kill his entire family if he didn’t do it. But he had the courage to draw the line at murder, and so the whole family had no choice but to flee. Thankfully, he’s safely out of that life now.”
Smellie and Ortega do whatever they can to show the students that life can be fun. “One time at year’s end we’d gotten everything cleared away sooner than expected, so we decided to have a fun day. We got a bunch of frisbees and invited the students to try throwing them around - most of them had never thrown one; we had to show them how.”
It’s a testament to Smellie and Ortega that a number of their students have gone on to be professional musicians and lifelong music lovers.
Smellie’s work with his students is an important part of his career, but he’s also maintains an active performing career.
“Mainly I play classical music, solo or with a symphony orchestra. Occasionally I play with concert bands or play big band jazz. “
“Back in Winnipeg, I played with a local R&B band, Deja Blue, for about 12 years. We performed as the horn section for the Four Tops.”
His career continued in multiple new directions when he moved to Texas. “I played tejano music with Zavala Band for about 10 years,” he says. “Currently I’m contracted to a few symphony orchestras - we sometimes play in some pretty large churches - one has a congregation of around 4,000. I’ve been onstage with some pretty great bands, like the Cumbia Kings (which featured the brother of tejano star Selena). Also with La Mafia, and Intocable.”
Protection That Lasts
Some things in life are more than tools or possessions, they are a part of who you are. They simply can’t be replaced with an insurance check.
When your instrument matters that much, it makes sense to get the best protective cases available on the market.
Production Case can design custom laminate or aluminum cases to your specifications on request. And one day, many decades from now, if it needs a repair we’ll be happy to provide that too!