Megumi Kanda

Principal Trombonist, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

Why She’s Amazing

Megumi Kanda doesn’t want to be a princess. She wants to be more.

Megumi Kanda is a musical trailblazer who broke the brass ceiling by earning the principal trombone job for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (MSO), one of the few full-time U.S. orchestras in which a woman holds that position.

Megumi, a native of Tokyo, Japan, began to play the trombone at age 10; and, at age 15, she became the youngest player ever to be named as one of the top ten trombonists at the Japanese Wind and Percussion Competition. At age 17, she won the Grand Prize in the National Competition for Solo Trombone.

Today, she holds the honor of being named one of the most influential Japanese classical artists by the Arion Foundation in Tokyo, Japan.

Megumi wants her success to serve as inspiration for other girls. “I wanted to be…strong and elegant and to make a path for other girl trombonists,” she said.

We had a chance to ask Megumi a few questions. We think you’ll agree that her musical ability is as impressive as her humble and kind spirit.

“With hard work and dedication,
anything is possible.” – Megumi Kanda

Q & A

Q: When you were a young girl, what did you want to be when you grew up and why?

A: I wanted to be something big and do something important! For a time, I wanted to be a scientist and find a cure for cancer. I have also always loved gardening, so I wanted to own my own flower shop.

Q: What did people think when you told them that?

A: My family has always been tremendously supportive of everything I’ve done. Of course, they laughed when a six year old decided she would cure cancer, but my father always said I would be the first female something, so I knew early on that significant achievement was entirely possible.

Q: Did people call you “princess” when you were a little girl and, if so, how did that make you feel?

A: They didn’t call me princess because I was a tomboy at heart, but I always enjoyed dressing up in fancy dresses. Of course, then I would go climb a tree or play in the mud. For a time, I actually did quite literally want to be a princess. Growing up in Japan, of course, there is a royal family, so I thought I could marry into it. The traditional royal wedding kimono and dresses are so beautiful that I really wanted to wear them! However, I did the math, and the prince, while single, was too old for me, so I moved on!

Q: How did you become interested in playing the trombone?

A: I joined the band in school to be with my best friend. I was actually very interested in the clarinet, but by the time it was my turn to choose an instrument, there was only a dirty old trombone left in the storage room, so that’s what I got. However, once I started to play it, I loved it immediately. I also really enjoyed how unexpected and not girly the instrument was. As a child in Japan with an American mother (and Japanese father), I always loved being just a little different.

Q: What did you have to do to accomplish this?

A: As the old joke goes: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.

Q: Did you have a mentor or role model who inspired you?

A: I have had a great number of excellent teachers along the way, all of whom were very encouraging and generous with support, praise, and even giving me instruments to play. But, of course, it really starts at home, doesn’t it? My mother always loved the playing of Bill Pearce, who played the trombone on his radio show, and she ooed and aahed over his ‘buttery’ sound. She is also an amateur pianist with a great love of music and has a wonderful ability to always bring joy to whatever she is doing, so I try to be joyous AND play with a sound like melted butter!

Q: Did your family and friends support your aspirations?

A: Always. My family has literally traveled around the world to come hear and support me.

Q: Did you think about being called a “trailblazer” for choosing this path?

A: Historically, brass players, especially trumpet, trombone and tuba, have largely been men. This has changed a lot over time, especially in the last 20 years, but it is still a male-dominated arena in a lot of ways. The true trailblazers were really the ones that came first, of course, and who faced real animosity and professional sabotage from colleagues. Thanks to them, I’ve never had to deal with that kind of blatant sexism. There can be hurdles, but they are much smaller. For example, it’s an easy assumption that women can’t play as loud as men. I’ve found that if I am confident and kind then I will be judged on how I play. I think of myself much more as an inspirer than a trailblazer. I always enjoy helping young girl trombonists realize that there is a place for them, too.

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Q: What motivates you?

A: Playing a musical instrument is not something that can ever be perfected, so it is important to enjoy the journey in constant pursuit of excellence. Every day, I try to improve something about my trombone playing and get one step closer to achieving my full potential.

Q: Of what are you most proud?

A: I try not to be proud of my trombone playing. Instead, I focus on being thankful for each musical moment I have. When I was in college, I injured my lip from overuse and had to stop playing for a time to let it heal. I was a highly motivated young musician, so the prospect of not being able to return was terrifying. When I was able to come back, I was grateful to be able to play again and, ever since, I have remembered that feeling and tried to share my joy of musicmaking with every performance I am fortunate enough to give.

What I am proud of is to be a mother to three wonderful boys!

Q: What would you like people to learn from you?

A: I would hope that people can learn that you don’t have to change yourself just to fit in. Be sincere and patient and, sooner or later, you will be appreciated.

Q: What three words would you like people to use to describe you?

A: Graceful. Kind. Strong.

Q: What do you want people to know about you outside of your professional accomplishments?

A: I have three wonderful boys who keep our home life anything but dull. And, I am a devoted gardener and a cat lover!

Q: Given the choice, would you do it all again?

A: In an instant!

Q: If you could eat lunch with one person, who would it be?

A: My husband!

Q: Which woman would you choose to have on U.S. currency?

A: I think Harriet Tubman is an excellent choice!

Q: What advice would you give to a girl who right now wants to be just like you?

A: Don’t be me, be yourself! With hard work and dedication, anything is possible.

Fun Facts:

  • Megumi is definitely a morning person.
  • Her husband sent her the last text message she received – about hiring babysitters.
  • Megumi’s favorite season is spring for gardening!
  • Her favorite quote is a passage from the Bible (Matthew 6:34) that she remembers to help her from worrying too much about the future: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.
    Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
  • Megumi prefers chocolate over vanilla! She keeps a bar of
    dark chocolate in her purse at all times!