• Originally published in the Kane County Chronicle on Nov. 30, 2010
The Kane County Chronicle first featured Arianna Smith about a year and a half ago, when she was a 15-year-old viola player who had just found out her chance to play New York City’s Carnegie Hall had vanished after funding for the show had fallen through.
Now 17, Arianna – a St. Charles native currently studying at The Colburn School in Los Angeles – has another chance.
She has been selected as one of 15 finalists in an online contest that offers young musicians the chance to compete for a spot on NPR’s “From the Top” national radio broadcast as well as an opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall in spring 2011.
Public voting began Monday at YouTube.com/BigBreak. Voting ends on Dec. 14. As they say in Chicago – vote early, vote often.
On Monday, I spoke with Arianna by phone while she was on a break from her studies at The Colburn School.
Q: You missed your last chance to play at Carnegie Hall. How big of a deal is it for you to get another chance to play there through this contest?
Arianna: It’s a very big deal to get to play there. … That’s one of the places that is really important and prestigious.
Q: What would be a bigger deal? Playing at Carnegie or playing at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., which you did in June?
Arianna: I think it’s a little different because the Kennedy Center was amazing but that was with my quartet. This would be a solo. So performing with my quartet was a really big deal, but I think this is a little more exciting.
Q: Your parents, Jeff and Susanne Smith, said you practice the viola about five hours a day. Author Malcom Gladwell poses in his book “Outliers” that it takes 10,000 hours for someone to become truly exceptional at something. At five hours a day, you would need to practice 2,000 days – or a little less than five and a half years if you practice every day – to reach that number. Does that seem daunting to you? And have you already hit that 10,000 hours?
Arianna: I’m pretty sure I hit that a long time ago. I practice a lot. And that’s not too daunting. Not really. It’s been my everything for my whole life. I can’t imagine not practicing that much. I was sick for two weeks last year, and I couldn’t play and I was so bored out of my mind.
Q: What’s a normal day like for you?
Arianna: Normally, I wake up at 7 a.m. and practice until noonish. Then I have lunch. Then I have class from 1:30 to 4 p.m. every weekday. And then the rest of the day is free.
Q: Do you practice on the weekend?
Arianna: Yes. Probably a little less. Like three hours or something.
Q: Is there any time when you miss not leading a normal teen life – you know, one without five hours of viola practice every day?
Arianna: No. I think in high school I had that feeling when I never hung out with people on weekdays. But I definitely couldn’t imagine my life any differently. I was saying to my brother [over Thanksgiving break] that I’m happy with all my decisions I’ve made. Graduating early. Coming here. It’s just great. It’s exactly what I wanted. And I was never really into the whole high school scene.
Q: Put your iPod on shuffle. What are the first five songs to pop up?
Arianna: 1. Rhianna’s “Umbrella.” 2. Counting Crows’ “Accidentally in Love.” 3. “Adagio” by Albinoni. 4. “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In.” 5. Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” suite.
Q: You played at the Salvation Army for Lazarus House on Thanksgiving. What was that like?
Arianna: I do it every year. I’m into that scene. I love doing concerts like that. … Everyone is so appreciative afterward. I’m so glad that I do it. And for me, it’s kind of easier music. I get to play Chrismas music and holiday music that I normally don’t get to play. And I get to do some improvisation. I’ll probably do it Christmas Day, too.
Q: What’s it like being around those who attend The Colburn School with you?
Arianna: It’s great. It was a little intimidating at first, though, because the school is so selective and small. The other violists here are mostly 23 to 26 and I just turned 17 so that was a little intimidating.
Q: Is it frustrating to you that classical music isn’t more popular?
Arianna: It is. Here at Colburn we’ve had lots of discussion about how do we get more people interested. What is our generation supposed to do? … I think a lot of people have a perception of classical music that it’s untouchable, too sophisticated, can’t go to concerts in jeans. I have friends that aren’t into classical music, but they still enjoy the concerts. … I do wish more people were interested in it.
Q: What is your ultimate dream, your ultimate goal?
Arianna: I really love chamber music. I’ve said for a couple of years that I would love to get a quartet together like I had and become a professional quartet. But right now I’m focusing on myself and being the best soloist I can be and we’ll see where that takes me.
• Joe Grace is the editor of the Kane County Chronicle. On Tuesdays, he interviews someone interesting in the community. If you have someone you think would make a great interview, let him know by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 630-845-5368.