2017 Recap: Part 2

To read about the first part of 2017, click here.

At the beginning of July, it was wonderful to join the Houston Symphony for a couple of concerts in Miller Outdoor Theater. Thankful for Miller’s air conditioned stage, making the 100+ degree heat more bearable!

during intermission

The next week, La Speranza performed at the MATCH for the first time for an enthusiastic crowd. Thomas Carroll, Andrew Schneider, and I performed a program of Romantic-era works for clarinet, viola, and piano.


Watching my friends get married on July 17!

July 29-August 13 was my second year at the American Bach Soloists Academy and Festival. It was a wonderful two weeks of Bach, Purcell, and Graun. So grateful for the wonderful experience and for the hospitality of my great friends Nathan and Stephanie Stroud.

I was able to catch up with my uncle Brian in San Francisco!

On August 14, I flew to Houston to switch violas, then flew out a few hours later to Chicago to play in the last week of Grant Park Orchestra’s season. It was lovely to spend time with Amanda, my roommate from college and to play great repertoire with wonderful colleagues!

A week after flying back to Houston, Hurricane Harvey ravaged southeast Texas. Houston received 51 inches of rain in a single weekend. I was housesitting at the time of the hurricane, and watched with bated breath as water lapped at the front step of the house (5 feet off the ground) all night one night, fell around 5:30 AM, then rose all day the next day.  My apartment and car were relatively safe (some water leaked into the apartment under the air conditioning unit) and my parents were also safe and dry. Unfortunately our storage unit was flooded and many of the contents inside were destroyed.

Also, the Wortham Center, the home of Houston Grand Opera, Houston Ballet, and Mercury, was filled with 12 feet of water, rendering it out of commission until September 2018. Huge shoutout to all arts organizations, but especially Mercury and personnel manager Judy Frow for being able to relocate all of their concerts and rehearsals for the entire season.

It was a strange, slow start to what is normally a busy time. Summer tends to be a slow financial time for freelance musicians: students are on vacation and there aren’t as many gigs. Harvey hit when we musicians were most vulnerable, and it was hard not to worry about finances. This is to say nothing for several colleagues and friends that lost property. Postal service stopped for about a month, which made getting paid for August work difficult. I was extremely grateful for some generous friends and colleagues both near and far, and I was equally grateful for the opportunities to volunteer with time and music throughout the first part of September.

September also included a quick trip to Boston, concerts with Mercury and Ars Lyrica Houston and lots of makeup lessons for my students at Tallowood. The month ended with another concert series with the Houston Symphony relocated to the beautiful Stude Concert Hall at my alma mater, Rice University.

In October, I received a long-anticipated package- a beautiful baroque viola built by Tim Johnson after a Guarneri viola. We’d been working together on it since April, and I am absolutely enthralled with the final product! It received its debut at La Speranza’s season opener on October 12 at MATCH and got a workout with 5 subsequent performances of Mendelssohn’s Octet with Mercury.


I also had the privilege of premiering a new piece for viola and strings by Adrienne Albert called In Tuo Lumine Lumen, with a wonderful orchestra conducted by my dad, Kirk Smith. At the end of the month, La Speranza was honored to perform at St. Mark’s Houston and help raise funds for Lord of the Streets. We also were thrilled to learn we’d been invited to perform at the 2018 Houston Early Music Festival this upcoming February.


November held a photo shoot for La Speranza by the wonderful Carolyn Witherspoon at Fair Star Photography and a much-anticipated album release. I really enjoy collaborating with Matt Kidd at Slow Meadow, and in September 2016, a string quartet of us worked on an album with Matt at Sonic Ranch. “Costero” was released on November 17th!

At the end of the month, I collaborated with Dr. Steve Incavo again, this time on Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet with more of my wonderful colleagues.

Our view for the performance with Dr. Incavo

This past month feels as though it has gone by in a blur, but it included several holiday-related gigs, a recording session for the clarinet quintet with Steve, appearing on Houston Life with Mercury, fundraising for La Speranza, and time spent catching up with several freelancing friends I only seem to see once or twice a year. Oh, and it snowed!!


This season I have been playing principal viola for most of the concerts with Mercury, sharing the position this year with my former professor James Dunham. I am also teaching at Tallowood Academy of Fine Arts and through the Houston Youth Symphony.


Thanks for reading if you’ve made it this far. I wish you and your loved ones a prosperous 2018!

2017 Recap: Part 1


This blog has been silent for some time but not for lack of things going on!

I rang in the New Year at the house of dear friends Matt and Anabel of Apollo Chamber Players. A few days later, La Speranza performed at Houston Methodist for the first time on the Crain Garden series with a program of clarinet quartets by Crusell and Mozart with Thomas Carroll. I had the privilege of performing with Kathleen Winkler, distinguished violin professor at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice, my alma mater, in Prokofiev’s String Quartet No. 1 in b minor. La Speranza also became fiscally sponsored by Fresh Arts, a local 501c3 arts organization. At the end of the month, Joanna Becker, wonderful violinist and friend, and I put on a winter recital for our studios at the home of our great friend and pianist extraordinaire Andrew Schneider.

I traveled to Los Angeles in February to play with Kaleidoscope which was a fun experience! When we weren’t rehearsing, the other musicians from Houston and I explored the Getty Museum and other attractions. It was great to see friends and colleagues I hadn’t seen in a while.

Hiking with friends Beth, Zach, and Beth’s dog Kingsley
Outside the Getty

The main event in March was La Speranza’s concert at Christ the King Presbyterian Church at the end of the month. We added a string trio by Wranitzky and Hummel’s clarinet quartet to our clarinet quartet by Crusell. I’m thrilled to work with such fine musicians and amazing colleagues, and we had a blast putting this program together.

Before the performance


I also traveled to Boston a few weeks prior to play a Romantic-era program with piano and clarinet with Thomas and his friend Jonathan.

Beautiful snowy day in Boston

Another highlight in March was the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. During a Mercury week, two of my colleagues who’d never been to a rodeo before came along with me!

We made a friend!

April is usually a busy month and this year was no different. Rehearsals for Houston Grand Opera’s Gotterdammerung were in full swing along with concerts and school shows with Mercury, outreach performances with Houston Early Music and an active teaching schedule. For those who don’t know, Gotterdammerung, the last opera of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle, is nearly 6 hours long. The violas have the longest book at 96 pages!

Houston Early Music performance


Getting to watch Gotterdammerung at the piano dress rehearsal

Our last performance was May 7, and on May 8 (also my birthday), I treated myself to a massage. I would need it preemptively for the week I was about to have! La Speranza’s debut at the Memorial Classical Music Series (featuring Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet) was on May 12 amidst a trial week (audition included) for principal viola of Mercury for a performance of Mozart’s Requiem on May 13.

From the Memorial Classical Music Series

The following weekend, I played in my first Groupmuse concert with Jessica Chu, flute, and Naomi Hoffmeyer, harp. We had a wonderful time putting together a diverse program of Debussy, Mathias, and Bax for an equally diverse and appreciative audience. My six viola students at Tallowood Academy of Fine Arts played beautifully in their end-of-year recital that day as well, accompanied expertly by Andrew Schneider.

Before the Tallowood recital


At the Groupmuse concert

Earlier in May, I worked with Dr. Stephen Incavo, orthopedic surgeon and clarinetist, and Charlie Tauber in a performance of Mozart and Beethoven clarinet trios in the lobby of Houston Methodist in another appearance on the Crain Garden series.

In June, I had the privilege of watching one of my best friends from childhood tie the knot with his high school sweetheart. Our trio from high school, pictured below, was reunited for an evening! Afterwards, I spent some time in Boston visiting Thomas and attending the Boston Early Music Festival! Patrick Merrill, the pianist in my trio from high school, is also a world-class harpsichordist and gave a recital at the festival. It was so great to hear him play again.


Our high school clarinet-viola-piano trio was reunited!

Sitting in a sweltering church listening to a beautiful performance by the North Texas Baroque Ensemble. It was about 95 degrees F in this photo!
Thomas and I spent some time in Rockport, MA before the festival began

In addition to these highlights, I subbed regularly with the Axiom Quartet at their weekly appearances through Harmony in the Air, a program that brings music every weekday to both Hobby and Bush airports. In the 2016-2017 school year I taught six students at Tallowood Academy of Fine Art and five students through the Houston Youth Symphony’s MELODY program on Thursdays. I also was a core member of Mercury, and I was featured in “Early to Rise”, an article in the May 2017 issue of Early Music America’s EMag.

A snapshot from EMag!
After the last Mercury performance of 2016-2017
I tried many baroque violas this year. Stay tuned for the end of the story in 2017 Recap, part 2!
This little guy fell onto my car on my way to a concert. He held on for 15 miles before I was able to rescue him at a gas station.

Part 2 coming soon!

Week at Sonic Ranch

In September, I was part of a string quartet from Houston that spent the week at Sonic Ranch Recording Studios with Matt Kidd and his ambient music project Slow Meadow.

Sonic Ranch is located in Tornillo, Texas- about 30 miles from El Paso and a stone’s throw from the Mexican border. The sunsets were beautiful and the company was awesome!image

Also the food.


Huevos rancheros every morning (well, we had a choice, and I always chose this!) Fried egg over corn tortilla with cheese and salsa on top, usually served with bacon and  made by the amazing cooks that came for breakfast and lunch.
My mouth is watering just thinking about this.

We also watched a sunset from the top of a silo as a rainstorm approached.


The ranch cats were also fun to hang out with. Here’s Birdie, taking a snooze.


We put in about 4-5 hours a day of studio work, lest you think we climbed silos and ate delicious food all day.



Once, we rode to work on the back of a pickup truck.

The ranch roads were great for walking and running and for talking on the phone.

I did manage to get sick this week, complete with a fever, but I still had a great time!

Thanks Matt, Slow Meadow, and Sonic Ranch for having us!

Date change for Music for Healing!

Instead of Friday March 31, our concert will be Thursday March 30. Still 8 pm, still at Christ the King Presbyterian.

Please consider making a tax-deductible donation here. The concert is about 6 months away, and I’d love to EXCEED our goal so that we can give as much as possible to the wonderful Healing Arts program. Let’s make it possible for the performing arts to saturate the life of EVERY hospitalized child in Houston!


Music for Healing

It’s only September, but I’m already looking forward to this concert in the spring!

Creating performance opportunities is one of the perks of being a freelance musician, especially because you can choose the repertoire, the colleagues and the cause. In this case, we’ll be benefiting the Healing Arts program of Young Audiences of Houston. Bringing performing arts to hospitalized children has a lasting positive effect and blesses families long after the child’s hospital stay. I am so excited to be collaborating with Thomas, Joanna and Shirley for the benefit of a cause that’s been near and dear to my heart for years. We’ll be performing works by Crusell and Hummel on Friday, March 31st, 2017 at 8 pm, Christ the King Presbyterian Church.


If you’re reading this, I’d be honored if you visit the online fundraising campaign. Even if you can’t donate, please share with your friends and families. I’m also looking for hosts for house concerts of about 10-15 guests in and around Houston to raise support. If you’d like more information, simply use the Contact section of this website to get in touch.

Thank you and hope to see you at the concert!


Summer of travels

Miles Traveled: 10,700 (including 2,416 driven)


Works Performed: 30

Performances: 23

Beethoven Pastoral Symphony for string sextet, Cedar Falls, IA

States Visited: 6

Festivals: 3

Cedar Valley Chamber Music Festival, Rice alums
2016 Berwick Academy at the Oregon Bach Festival (minus the clarinets, one cello, percussion, and trumpets)


Strauss II, Kaiserwalzer, Cedar Falls, IA


American Bach Soloists Academy 2016. We’re very serious as you can tell…


Pitches: 3 (A415, A430, A440)

J. S. Bach Mass in b minor, San Francisco CA

Instruments Used: 2

Times I visited the Pacific Ocean: 2

Hobbit Beach, Oregon

Times I intended to go see the new Star Trek movie: 3

Times I actually watched the new Star Trek movie: 0.35 (thanks to a fire alarm)

Cats Lived With: 11 (not all at once…)



Red, making sure I didn’t get too much work done 😉

Dogs Lived With: 1 (no photo though…)








Memories made: countless and priceless

Work buddies (Mercury) in Oregon
Frolicking on the beach
Work buddies in San Francisco
Mt. Pisgah hike, July 4, Oregon



Last night I was elated to receive one of the first published editions of SPARK.

SPARK is the piece for solo viola that my dad commissioned several years ago from the Philadelphia-based composer Daniel Dorff for my 18th birthday. Daniel wrote a short, incredibly fun piece that captures my personality wonderfully and provides several opportunities to show off the viola’s rich tone and virtuosic capabilities. I first performed SPARK on November 22, 2009 in my very first studio recital at Rice as a freshman. Since then, I performed it on several recitals and I’ve had a chance to make a YouTube video. In the coming years, I hope to feature SPARK in a recital in Houston along with other works for solo viola. I’ve had such a blast working on and performing this fantastic piece and I’m excited that others now have the same opportunity.

SPARK will be available for purchase from the Presser company.

Last week or so: Haiku edition

imageWords fail when we try
To describe love and its ups
And downs, so there’s art

Music and dance are
Similar; depicting scenes
Hidden beneath words

(In reference to the collaboration with CORE Dance in their show called “on love”. The choreography illuminated the vulnerability of loving someone and wanting to be loved. Thought-provoking to say the least!)

When I work with friends
it’s an honor I cherish
And look forward to

(I’m lucky to be able to call many other freelance musicians in town my friends and always love working with them. I especially look forward to  working with Mercury because of the overall friendly and inclusive vibe, from locals and out-of-towners alike. And yay for new friends- Emily and Beiliang!)

Spent Thursday as a
family of four, must have played
a Clear Lake concert.

(Mercury played a concert in Clear Lake, about an hour drive from Houston. Shoutout to Kristin, David, and Nate- we carpooled there and back plus we ate lunch, dinner, and post-concert meal together, so “family of four” was coined.)

No two “Rusalka”s
Personnel or performance
happened the same way

Playing opera
was being welcomed to a
family; thank you!

(Rusalka ended on Friday night. Even though I was playing under unfortunate circumstances, the orchestra was so warm and friendly. The viola section was rarely the same on any two nights with the illnesses, injuries, and family matters that came up, but each night all who were playing were so fun to be around and to work with.)

On Saturday we
danced to the music of Bach
Onstage and offstage

Late night ramen is
now a tradition after
Mercury concerts

(Another Mercury concert on Saturday. Bach’s music, especially his orchestral suites, lends itself to “dancing” onstage, as everyone senses the direction of the music and moves together. Most of us were not playing on the second suite, and so a few of us took advantage by having a dance party backstage during the Badinerie. Unforgettable! Afterwards we ate ramen at Jinya , just like in January. A great end to a wonderful week!)

Life updates

the blog has been silent for the past couple of weeks, but not for lack of thoughts or events.

  1. A colleague from my time at Rice passed away today after a five-year battle with cancer. He wrote a blog post about a week ago that has been on my mind lately. He handled his struggles with such strength and grace, inspiring so many and putting our short time on Earth into perspective.  It is overwhelming to think that he is finally at rest.
  2. last week I got a call to play in Houston Grand Opera’s production of Rusalka because of a violist’s illness. Even though it is under unfortunate circumstances, I have really enjoyed my experience so far- the cast is stellar, the production is beautiful, and the other orchestra members are amazing at what they do and super fun to be around! I feel very welcomed. It has also been an exhilarating experience to learn an opera on such short notice. The show opens this Friday- see the calendar page for details!

    I love watching the mermaids “swimming” high above the stage from the pit! Photo from Houston Grand Opera’s Facebook page