2018 Graduates: Alexander Smith
Loy Norrix Grad Hopes for Career in Opera
One day after church Alexander Smith spent some time talking to a family friend who was making a career as an opera singer.
Afterward, his mother asked him, “Would you ever want to do that?”
He remembers saying, “They’re like ... OK, but no.”
The friend happened to be opera singer Meredith Arwady, who has sung with the Metropolitan Opera, the San Francisco Opera, and Opera Frankfurt. She graduated from Loy Norrix High School, which is where Smith graduated from this spring. In the fall, he is attending Oberlin College & Conservatory to study vocal performance, which in his case means ... opera.
“It’s funny how things work out,” Smith said. “As I grew up I had a new appreciation for it. The way that they are able to produce such a sound is incredible. Hearing people sing live is a whole different experience, that gave me a whole new perspective to singing opera.
“When you hear a special voice, it’s like something out of this world. I don’t want to sound like super out there, but it’s really something special whenever I hear someone like Meredith sing. It’s a whole new inspiration.”
This summer Smith spent five weeks studying with the Oberlin in Italy Program, learning Italian and performing the role of the King of Scotland in Handel’s opera “Ariodante.”
“It will be my first real exposure to singing opera versus a recital with just you on stage. I’m really excited to be a part of that.”
Smith, 18, grew up surrounded by music. His mother Wendy Rose is a professor of bassoon at Western Michigan University. His father Brad Smith is an oboist and English horn player and supervisor of the woodshop at WMU’s Gwen Frostic School of Art. Smith attended Winchell Elementary School and Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts. While a student at Loy Norrix, he dual enrolled at WMU.
His first instrument was cello, which he began playing with instructor Grace Fields and the Suzuki Academy of Kalamazoo when he was 3.
He made his stage debut as an actor when he was 8 in a performance of “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” with the Kalamazoo Civic Youth Theatre. Whenever he felt the need to expand his horizons, he’d try another Civic show.
It was during one of those auditions, that someone suggested he begin taking voice lessons.
He began lessons when he was a freshman and for the past several years has studied with Dr. Ken Prewitt, chair of the voice area at WMU.
“Alex Smith is a remarkable talent. His voice is mature, rich and beautiful. He is also a good musician, able to learn difficult music and make sense of it, singing with beauty and under- standing,” Prewitt said.
Although his focus is now on voice, Smith still plays cello and recently finished his sixth season with the Kalamazoo Junior Symphony Orchestra.
“When playing the cello, you use the bow back and forth with phrasing,” he said. “With the voice, it’s sort of a similar thing. There’s no bow involved, but you really have to think of the phrases. Sometimes when I’m singing, I can visualize phrases as if I were playing them on the cello and vice versa. And for my voice, because I’m a baritone, I feel like my sound is really reminiscent of a cello.”
One of his challenges is that as a singer, his “instrument” is still developing.
“Your voice changes so much,” Smith said. “When I started I was a tenor. Now, I’m like a bass baritone. I don’t know where I’ll go from here. It could go up to a tenor again or down to a full bass. Right now, I’m doing baritone repertoire. I’m just doing the best that I can.”
He started by singing art songs, which he still performs. He’s hoping for more opportunities to sing opera, while at the same time being protective of his voice as it continues to grow and mature. He said he might look at doing more musical theater, but right now he’s taking care to focus on the healthy growth of his voice as he seeks more training.
Wherever the future takes him, he said he’s grateful for one thing: his parents.
“They would support me doing anything. They’d be behind me. When I was younger I thought I wanted to be in the biomedical field. They were supporting me through that. At different phases, I thought maybe I wanted to study law or history, and they were like, ‘Oh yeah, then you should do that.’ It’s really awesome to have that.”