Thales Smith just shared with us a college scholarship essay he wrote several years ago about performing on our outreach series for high school students, when he, himself, was a high school student too!  Enjoy.

In high school, I had the opportunity to perform over twenty concerts in Austin area schools through Austin Classical Guitar (ACG).  Often, these performances were in preparation for competitions or larger performances, but I was also hired by ACG at one point to perform ten concerts in schools over a period of two weeks.  As much as I enjoy performing regular concerts, concerts in schools are even more fun.  The reason for this is that performances in schools involve more than just playing the pieces on the program.  They involve introducing the pieces, explaining what to listen for, giving some background on the composer or style of music, talking with the students after the performance, answering questions, and talking about my experiences as a musician.

I began my performances by saying hello and introducing my first piece.  The piece that I often started with was “Etude No. 1” by Giulio Regondi.  I told the students that Giulio Regondi was a child prodigy guitarist who started performing at age five.  I also explained that the title of the piece, “etude,” means “study” or “exercise” but that the piece was not so much an exercise in how to physically play the guitar as an exercise in how to play beautifully and convincingly, that is, how to “sing” with the guitar.  After playing the first piece, I usually introduced and played three or four more pieces.  The piece I often ended with was “Fuoco” by Roland Dyens.  Until this piece, all of the pieces I had played were in a classical style, and while “Fuoco” is still considered classical, it includes elements of jazz and rock and is very fast.  Every time I performed this piece for students, they became perceptibly more attentive, moving forward in their chairs and focusing their eyes on my hands.  Riotous applause followed this piece. 

After performing all of my pieces, the teacher asked the students if they had any questions for me.  This was my favorite part.  Students asked about everything from how long I’d been playing guitar, to whether or not I played a certain piece, to what kind of strings I used on my guitar and why.  The younger the students, the more interesting their questions were.  For example, I once got the question, “what is the hardest to play?”  To answer this seemingly innocuous question involves talking about the elements of musicianship from technique to memorization to musicality.  No matter how simple or seemingly pointless the question, I always tried to give the best answer I could.  The students’ curiosity and eagerness was catching, and formulating answers to their questions kept me thinking in the moment.

In doing these performances, I learned about what I enjoy doing and how this fits into society.  I enjoy explaining things, and the thing I know most about is music.  People are curious about music, and they enjoy exploring the world of sound and how that sound is made.  Regardless of whether I end up being a professional musician or go into some other profession, I know that I will thrive if curiosity and explanation are part of my job. 

At UT, the classes I take for my music degree sharpen my understanding of music while the classes I take for my Plan II degree hone my ability to think and communicate this understanding with the people I encounter.