Isla Brownlow, a senior at USM has been a musician from a young age. She began learning to play the trombone before fifth grade—fifth grade being when most grade school students are allowed to join band—because she wanted to be ahead of the game. Her mother played the trombone in highschool and college so learning to play the instrument was in her blood. Brownlow then went on to learn to play the drum set in 7th grade, becoming a dually talented musician. 

Brownlow was active on the music scene in middle school and high school, but it didn’t stop there. Her love for playing music, particularly jazz, translated into her goals for secondary education. She ultimately decided to pursue a degree in music performance with a concentration in jazz studies here at USM. When talking about why she decided to continue to pursue music in college she said, “I really wanted to continue playing music because I enjoyed it so much and it just came really naturally to me.”

Brownlow is very involved with music on campus including playing trombone in USM’s large jazz ensemble, as well as in the school’s classical orchestra which plays symphonic works. She also plays the drums for small ensemble and vocal jazz ensemble. Off campus Brownlow participates in a Ska band called Bad Combo, which is Portland based. 

For Brownlow being a musician and playing her instruments can be used as a way to release steam and express herself, but it can also be stressful. For her practicing her instruments is something that she does everyday and as a music performance major practicing can be synonymous to studying. While some students study for big tests Brownlow practices and works at her craft to meet deadlines and produce her best quality work. She does however dabble in playing the guitar which for her is a nice contrast from her educationally associated instruments, and gives her a break when needed.

Brownlow finds inspiration in playing with others. When asked about when she felt most creative she talked about the improvisational aspect of being a musician and how when you are playing as a group you can feed off of each other. She shared, “If they play something melodic or rhythmic that really resonates with you then it makes you feel inspired to do something and play off of that. Either something that complements it or repeating what they played.” Though the pandemic was a struggle for Brownlow and many musicians alike, keeping them from being able to play together as often, returning to playing in person has been a step in the right direction.

Covid wasn’t the only struggle that Brownlow has faced throughout her musical career. The music world can be an intense place and the pressure can be hard to handle at times. Wrestling with self doubt and comparing herself to others is something that Brownlow experiences as a musician, but she works through it in a positive way. “You just kind of have to realize what is most important to you. If you want to share your expression with people, people are going to respond to that, so even if there’s someone else who has a ton of technique they might not be as expressive as you are.” She also touched on the fact that she is the only female jazz instrumentalist major at USM, adding that it is like this at different schools too.

When asked what music meant to her Brownlow replied, “Music is capable of making you feel so deeply and as a musician it’s really powerful to be able to insight feelings in other people and I don’t know, just to be able to express yourself in a lot of different ways.” Making people feel good and making them feel different emotions is something that makes her feel good too, it is something that she can do through her music. In the future Brownlow hopes to graduate and pursue a career as a gigging musician.


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