Former Red Deerian and extremely gifted soprano Olivia Smith is off to Philadelphia to attend the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music.
“Last year, in New York, one of the teachers had mentioned, ‘You have to apply to Curtis,” she explained. “The teacher I had been working with – Ruth Falcon – said she had been teaching a lot of students there and told me that I should apply – that it would be really great for me.”
Smith had had her eye on the Curtis Institute of Music for awhile, having followed a student there via postings on social media. It’s not easy to get into, but Smith gave it a shot and the doors opened.
Talk about your dreams coming true.
“It’s wild – I still can’t believe it,” she said during a chat from Kelowna just one day before she was to fly down to Philadelphia. “I have to pinch myself – it’s finally getting real.
“It’s a dream come true – I don’t think it will sink in, what a blessed opportunity this is, until I am there. I am so grateful to even have had the chance to audition there,” she said, adding how thankful she is to those who have helped her realize her dreams. The program extends over four years, and offers all kinds of amazing opportunities for her to continue to perfect her craft and learn so much about music in general.
“The school’s motto is ‘Learn by Doing’ so they really like to integrate you into things – they do lots of operas, and productions where you work with all the orchestra students,” she said. “It’s really amazing how they fully immerse their students into that.
“I know that’s one of the central points of it – along with a lot voice lessons, working on vocal technique and master classes.”
According to the Institute’s web site, “Curtis’s rare tuition-free policy was established in 1928 and to this day provides merit-based full-tuition scholarships for all Curtis students, undergraduate and graduate alike. Students continue to be accepted for study at Curtis solely on the basis of their artistic talent and promise.
“Since its founding in 1924, the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia has been considered one of the world’s leading classical music conservatories.”
Smith, 18, has been wowing audiences for several years via her exquisite vocal stylings – and all along the way, she’s had tremendous support from friends, family, and acclaimed instructors who have been helping to guide her.
She’s been living with her family in Kelowna for the past several years, continuing with her training which has included exciting learning opportunities in New York City.
She is also well-known to local audiences here in Red Deer, having performed with Central Alberta Theatre, the Kiwanis Music Festival and various other community events as well.
Her voice is indeed magical, and from the time she was about seven-years-old, she knew that she wanted to be a performer.
For about eight years, she studied with Cheryl Valentine in Red Deer, and that’s a partnership that has continued over the years as well. “It’s been wonderful to have had all these opportunities to perform, but I think as a young student, the best thing you can do for yourself is to take the time to nurture your voice. As exciting as it is to have the chances to perform, sometimes it isn’t the best for a young voice – you need that time to ‘settle in’ and work on your technique and all of the different changes that are happening your own voice (at this stage).
“Cheryl is so wonderful – I would not be where I am without her.”
Interestingly, she first had set her sights on country singing. But her parents wanted her to pursue classical training to begin with.
Over time, she grew to love the genre, and today, it’s clear that studying classical music has provided her with a foundation that opens doors to nailing any number of styles.
Moving to Kelowna allowed for some more exciting opportunities, including singing with Opera Kelowna along with continue to receive vocal instruction. Last summer, she was accepted into the International Vocal Arts Institute in New York City.
It was on a previous trip that Smith had met the very accomplished Joan Dornemann, who is connected to the International Vocal Arts Institute, and who had also encouraged Smith to apply for the program despite her only being 17 at the time.
“We spent three weeks there, and it was the most amazing experience of my life,” she said. “I couldn’t even believe that I had that opportunity to go at my age.”
Ultimately, for Smith, there is nothing like studying music, honing her remarkable craft and performing. She has an enduring passion for classical music as well. “There’s something about hearing that music from so long ago. It’s like being able to touch the past a little bit – with opera, especially. You get that connection.
“I just remember the first time I was introduced to opera, and to classical music. You don’t hear it often, but when you do – I just have such an appreciation for it. There is nothing quite like it.” She also wants to help inspire others to feel that same way, too.
“I think it’s just something that is so sacred.”