Updated: Feb 20, 2019
Soprano Ally Smither is a busy woman. As she flew back from rehearsals in Toronto, she took advantage of the opportunity to answer some questions I sent her ahead of her performance this Saturday in our concert, "Visions of the Self."
When did you realize music was something you wanted to dedicate your life to?
"I initially went into my Vocal Performance undergrad with the intention of going to law school. I think that change of heart centered around a realization that I wasn’t only interested in the physical act of singing, but was also absolutely obsessed with the “art” singing allowed me to create. Once I saw myself as a creator and instigator alongside being a singer, the impulse to continue was difficult to stop."
Tell me a little bit about the program you’ve put together?
"I am so excited about this program!! I called this program “Visions of the Self”. How we see ourselves and how we see others is so incredibly informed by history, experience, and memory. All of the pieces on this recital emerge from a land of evocation; they all center on [a] place of discovery between one’s past and future. I want the audience to join in this discovery. Also, all these pieces are in English. I hope this will allow the audience to easily connect to the stories being told."
What’s it like to work with a living composer? Has that informed how you approach works by long-dead ones?
"Working with living composers is the absolute best part of my job. When you have the opportunity to be part of the process of writing a piece, the finished product is like having the most beautifully tailored dream suit to put on. They know your voice and your mind, so the product becomes collaborative and reflective. Also, some of my most loving and supportive friends are composers. Performing their music gives me an opportunity to support and uplift them back. That is the most gratifying part of the whole process, introducing the music I love, written by people I dearly love, to people who will love it too!
In terms of the long-dead ones, I think I’m mostly just reminded that these canonized gods and goddesses were humans too. They lived, and breathed the same anxious air we all do. They were probably fretting about how their music would be received as much as I fret (which is a lot), so I try to do them justice. I also always try and do my homework on who the composer was as a person and what the historical context of their life. This is so important to see how they are reflected in the music they created."
How did you and Wesley begin working together?
Wesley and I met my first year at Rice, so almost five years ago! A few of us had decided to start a new music ensemble, Hear&Now, and Wesley was one of the first players to jump on board. He was here with me when I did some of my first huge contemporary chamber pieces, including my first Pierrot [Lunaire, by Schönberg] . Once I was out of school, Wesley became someone I could always go to to rehearse any kind of strange and wonderful repertoire. His ears and brain are fantastic and he is one of the kindest, funniest people I know. He’s become one of the people I trust the most in regards to how I’m sounding, and one of my favourite people to hangout with period. I’m SO happy we have this chance to do this program together.
What have you unexpectedly grown to love about Houston and Texas?
"The weather was the first thing. I’m Canadian, so when my first winter here wasn’t absolutely frigid, I was in love.
Climate aside, my falling in love with Houston was twofold. First, I fell in love with the community at Rice. They have changed my life. Second, I fell in love with the city. I’m a big foodie, so Houston’s restaurant scene blew me away. Above all, all the communities here I’m lucky enough to be a part of are so supportive and vibrant I can’t imagine not being a part of them! Also, I met the love of my life here, so Houston will always have a special place in my heart."
What other forms of entertainment do you enjoy?
"I love watching anyone do anything that they have thrown themselves into passionately. Live music of any sort, art exhibits, etc. I’m a big believer in going to your colleagues concerts as much as possible! Why not go see incredible art AND support your friends?! I also once went to see the weinerdog races at the horse track in Houston. 10/10 would recommend. Oh, and mutton-busting at the rodeo. That absolutely wrecked me."
What have been some of the joys and challenges in making your transition from student to professional life?
"Let me tell you, my first year out of school was absolutely brutal. I worked so many jobs and had an incredible amount of things go incredibly wrong. I seriously thought I was going to quit and make that switch to law school. However, I stuck it out and things eventually turned around thanks to some exhaustive hard work and the support of my friends and family. So many of those friends and family were here in Houston: my late teacher Dr. Barbara Clark; my second family, Jerry and Jenny Hou; my donors from Rice, Gary and Mavis Anderson; and so many others from my Rice community. I wouldn’t have been able to get through that first year without them.
One thing I always remember from that transition period was what one of my mentors, Pedja Muzijevic, said to me when I thought I had hit rock bottom. He said: "the first time you experience being stuck in a hole, you don’t know that you’re going to get out. But you will.” He was totally right, and now the joys do outweigh the challenges. This is a difficult career and there are still holes to fall into sometimes. Luckily, now I know that I have the love and tools to get out of them. For that I am so grateful."
Ally Smither presents "Visions of the Self" with Wesley Ducote, piano, this Saturday, February 23 at 7pm.
Lord of Life Lutheran Church, 3801 S Panther Creek Dr. The Woodlands, TX 77381
Tickets are $20; kids come free!