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Volume 26, Number 4 — April 2019

Young Pianist Performs with The Paramount Players

Lydia Smythe won first place in her age group in the most recent Bristol Music Club Scholarship Competition.
Lydia Smythe won first place in her age group in the most recent Bristol Music Club Scholarship Competition.

'I love practicing. I would probably do nothing else if I could.'

By Dottie Havlik | January 27, 2009

Multimedia Feature: Download / Listen to MP3

Lydia Smythe, 16, is a home-schooled high school junior who lives on a farm near Damascus, Va., with her parents, Dan and Kimberly Smythe, her seven brothers and four sisters. Lydia studies piano with Ann Holler in Bristol, Tenn., and won first place in her age group in the most recent Bristol Music Club Scholarship Competition.

The judges awarded Lydia an additional prize, giving her the opportunity to perform with The Paramount Players chamber music ensemble at the Paramount Center for the Arts in Bristol, Tenn. She recently chatted with A! Magazine for the Arts.

What's it like being in a big family?
I love it. I would not trade it for anything! We all work together, and there's a lot of organization, and there's a lot of fun. It's exciting ? there's never a dull moment.

Tell us about your music.
I've been taking piano seriously since I was about 11, but my mom is also a pianist, and she gave me lessons until then. I've had a couple of different teachers, and they've all helped me to love music and to know that, even if you don't get every single note right, you can still love it and put your heart into it — and just to enjoy it and to be a blessing to other people through music.

Why did you start playing?
I loved listening to my mom play ? she always played for church. You can understand what composers were thinking, and what their hearts were like when they wrote.

How can you tell?
Because the music has feelings. You can tell if someone was angry when they were writing something, or whether they were happy, or missing someone.

Do you feel those emotions when you play?
Uh-huh, yeah. Like, there's a piece by Chopin where he wrote it when he moved away from Poland, and he never got to go back. He wrote it when he was sad about leaving. I try to bring out those emotions when I play.

Talk about your recent experience at The Paramount Center.
That was an amazing experience, being able to play with professional musicians. I played with a cello and violin — a movement from a Clara Schumann piano trio.

What did you learn about the composer Clara Schumann through her music while learning and performing the piano trio?
That she was not allowed to get married at first, that her dad was a pianist, and that she knew Brahms. It's interesting to connect everything together, because their music [Brahms and Schumann] is similar.

What was it like, playing in front of all those people?

It actually wasn't that bad, because I couldn't see them, the lights were so bright. It was really amazing to be practicing at home by myself, and then to be on stage playing for my family and friends. It was fun.

Did you pick up any tips?
It helped me to follow people better, because when you're a solo pianist, you can do whatever you want. But when you're playing with other people, you have to understand what they think about the music, because nobody interprets things exactly the same way. Just working together ? it was harder than I thought it was going to be. But it was a lot of fun when we finished it.

How is playing in a chamber music ensemble different for you than playing solo piano?

I had to be listening to the other players and to what their hearts were like. We had to communicate with each other.

What was the process of learning this piece and preparing for public performance?

I practiced a lot by myself, listened to recordings, worked during lessons, and had rehearsals.

Were the rehearsals what you expected? Were there any surprises?
The rehearsals were more laid back than I expected. I thought they would be like a music lesson, but they were more like talking about what we wanted to do.

What did you learn from the violinist and the cellist, both professionals, who performed with you?

Sometimes when you are playing you think you are doing something musically, but you are not doing it well enough for others to hear. The cellist was really good at finding what the music really meant.

Would you like to play more chamber musc?

Are you planning a career in music?

At this point, I don't think so. I teach piano right now. I love teaching kids to play. And I'm playing piano for church right now. I don't know ? I'll see where God leads me.

How do you find piano students?

At our church, I have a couple of students. And I teach some of my brothers. If people know that I give lessons, a lot of times they just ask me.

How did you figure out how to teach?
I started teaching when I was 13, because I'd had a lot of piano training before that. I started with really younger kids, and my mom helped me figure out how, because it's one thing to know something, and it's another thing to teach someone else. She helped me, and now I've developed my own program. I really enjoy teaching.

Would you like to learn any other instruments, in addition to the piano?

I would love to learn the flute and someday the organ.

How does the Bristol Music Club Scholarship Competition help you with goal-setting, motivation, or encouragement?
It is encouraging to have outside people giving me feedback.

Do you like to practice the piano?
I love practicing. I would probably do nothing else if I could.

About Dottie Havlik: She is President of the Board of Directors of Arts Alliance Mountain Empire (AAME) and chair of AAME's Arts for Youth Committee. This committee seeks for the column to be the voice of each featured young person, presented in his or her own words.