Student Moves From UK's Commencement Stage to the Grand Opera Stage
"A Woman is a Sometime Thing" performed by Reginald Smith Jr. in UK Opera Theatre's production of "Porgy and Bess." Video courtesy of Smith. A transcript for this video can be found here.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 3, 2013) — Just over five years ago an aspiring young vocalist traveled by Greyhound bus from Atlanta to the University of Kentucky to audition for the School of Music. Now, graduating choral music education and vocal performance senior Reginald "Reggie" Smith Jr. returns to campus by airplane from Germany to walk in UK Commencement ceremonies Sunday, May 5, before heading to a new adventure with the Houston Grand Opera.
Growing up in Georgia, the singing bug first bit Smith in church where he sang in the choir. "I grew up singing in the church under the best choir director I ever had, my mother of course! You can't cut corners when your mother is the director," Smith said.
And, it was his mom's guidance that would also bring the world of opera eventually into her son's consciousness, though he had no other formal music training.
"Fortunately, my mother always taught us to respect all people and their customs. We were encouraged to try and experience new things," Smith said. "So, my brother and I joined the elementary choir at the same time. After some years, my brother stopped singing in school choirs, but I kept it up. It was because of a choir trip to see Tosca at the Atlanta Opera, starring now UK faculty member Cynthia Lawrence, that I saw my first opera in 10th grade. I fell in love with everything about it. I was bitten by the opera bug, and the rest, as they say, is history."
As Smith began to consider colleges, he considered who was teaching, how the program was perceived, and what their alumni were doing after graduation. "I knew I wanted to study with Dr. Everett McCorvey because he is one the best voice teachers in America and runs one of the best opera programs in America, too. His students and many other UK Opera Theatre alumni are singing all over the world."
But realizing a good music degree can be expensive, he also paid close attention to scholarship funding that was available and traveled to UK by bus to audition for the program and compete in UK's Alltech Vocal Scholarship Competition in hopes of getting some financial relief. "When I was told that I won first place in the competition and a tuition waiver, it meant the world to me. As a youth from a low-income home in the inner-city of Atlanta who dreamed of studying music, I was flabbergasted and truly amazed to see that someone who I never met before believed in my dream so much that they, along with the university, would pay my tuition in college."
As an undergraduate, Smith chose to major in both vocal performance and choral music education to help make a difference.
"Growing up, I was always interested in teaching. I knew I wanted to be a teacher," Smith said. "It wasn't until I went to high school that I realized I could be a music teacher. Around my junior year of high school, my voice teacher in Atlanta told me that I should consider being a voice major in college. So, for a while I thought about how I would choose one or the other until I decided that I love doing both equally. I love to sing for people. I love to teach people music and see them 'get it.' For me, regardless of singing or teaching, I love to share my joy and passion for music to all people. These degrees simply give me a variety of ways I can impact someone's life. I could do it on the stage or in the classroom. Both ways are A-OK with me."
To hear more about Smith's UK experience, click play below.
Video by Amy Jones and Kody Kiser/UK Public Relations and Marketing.
When he wasn't in the classroom, Smith could be found on both local and international stages showcasing his talents. "I have so many great memories from performing at UK. I have done a slew of choral concerts, recitals, several operas and even a few plays with the Department of Theatre. I enjoyed singing in the Bahamas with UK Chorale. That was a great opportunity. But I think my favorite role at UK in the opera department was Falstaff in Verdi's Falstaff. It is such a fun role to sing. I look forward to singing it again, and building on the skills I have learned at UK."
To see a piece of Smith's performance in UK Opera Theatre's production of Falstaff, click play below.
Video courtesy of Smith.
As he finished his classes, Smith chose to do his student teaching this spring in Germany to expand his skills. Already well familiar with the public school systems in America, he wanted to know what else was out there.
"I think the way we teach music in America is great. However, I wanted to broaden my knowledge of the content areas and have more tools in my toolbox, if you will. So, I chose to go to Germany because they had such a rich culture and musical history," Smith said. "I can listen to Beethoven on a CD and tell my students this is how it goes, or I could go to Bonn, Germany, visit Beethoven's house, see his piano where he wrote many of his famous works, hear these works performed in the same place where he heard these works performed, and then I can tell my students about that."
Though at times it was challenging, Smith wouldn't change his student teaching experience. "As the Germans would say, it was 'wunderbar!' I had a wonderful experience in Cologne, Germany. There were some challenges at first with the language, but, fortunately, I studied German at UK for two years before going. Unlike most students that go abroad, students in the COST (Consortium for Overseas Student Teaching) Program at UK through the education department are actually teaching in schools instead of just attending them. This creates an interesting and exciting dynamic to learn, grow, and become a better global citizen."
Returning to campus just this week, Smith will participate in the Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony for the Colleges of: Arts and Sciences, Communication and Information, Design, Fine Arts, Health Sciences, and Social Work at 6 p.m. Sunday, May 5. Then after a few summer performances, he will head for his new home in Houston and the Houston Grand Opera Studio Program.
Like many graduating opera/voice students, Smith spent much of the fall auditioning for opera companies and summer programs. He auditioned for Houston Grand Opera's Studio Program in the fall and was asked to come back and sing at their finals competitions. However, the finals were taking place while Smith was doing his student teaching.
"Fortunately, I was able to go to Houston and do a final audition before flying to Germany," he said. "After the finals were over in Houston, I got an email offering me a position in the studio program. It was late at night when I got it in Cologne. So, I thought that maybe it was a dream. When I woke up the next morning, I went to see if the email was still there. It was there indeed, and I was accepted in the Studio Program at Houston Grand Opera."
As a studio artist in Houston, Smith will have the opportunity to work this fall with some of the best vocal coaches, conductors and operatic staff members in America. He will have language classes, voice lessons, potentially some piano lessons, and more, including opportunities to perform. "What I find to be the coolest part is the studio artists also sing roles in their main stage productions with, as I often think of them, the 'opera stars.'"
The baritone added, "I will try not to be star-struck on stage. The show must go on!"
All UK Commencement ceremonies — the graduate and professional ceremony as well as the two undergraduate ceremonies — will take place in Rupp Arena. The schedule is as follows:
9 a.m. — Graduate and Professional Ceremony
1 p.m. — Undergraduate Ceremony for the Colleges of: Agriculture; Business and Economics; Education; Engineering; and Nursing.
6 p.m. — Undergraduate Ceremony for the Colleges of: Arts and Sciences; Communication and Information; Design; Fine Arts; Health Sciences; and Social Work.
More than 2,000 undergraduates and 500 graduate and professional students are expected to participate in Sunday's exercises; approximately 2,840 undergraduate,1,040 graduate and 460 professional degrees have been submitted to the UK Board of Trustees for approval.
All Commencement ceremonies will be streamed live online at www.uky.edu/uknow, the university’s daily news website. Videos of each ceremony will also be uploaded to the university's YouTube channel, during the week following Commencement. UK's cable channel 16 will air rebroadcasts of UK Commencement ceremonies at a later date.
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