Column: Help a St. Charles native play Carnegie Hall

• 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 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 or call him at 630-845-5368.

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