The Making of a Maestro

Local Composer Premieres Ballet

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At the age of 12, some people were just realizing they were too old to still be watching PBS Kids. On the other hand, there were children like Muscle Shoals native, Jeremy Smith, who bagged up all of his toys and created an office in his closet on the morning of his twelfth birthday. High atop Colbert Heights mountain, he had been diligently poring over a book entitled 100 Best Composers and their Life Stories, studying up on famous composers and learning guitar on his own time. As an eighth grade percussionist in the Muscle Shoals middle school band, Smith was already beginning to envision his own future as a modern-day composer.

Smith’s parents owned and operated various businesses in the Shoals area throughout his childhood and adolescence. His two brothers had already left the house by the time he reached his most formative years. Smith’s quiet mountaintop childhood led to plenty of time for solitary contemplation and private study, while seeing his parents work such long hours instilled a natural work ethic and creative, entrepreneurial drive in him. Although his teachers and family were certainly proud of the budding musician Smith was becoming, the majority of the adults surrounding him grew rather skeptical when the twelve-year-old boasted of his plans to become a composer.

“When you say you want to become a composer, especially as a child, I think people either brush you off or become discouraging. Most people have a really inaccurate conception of what composition is to begin with. Their minds tend to snap right to Mozart, powdered wigs, the 1700s that sort of thing. Believe it or not, there has been quite a bit of progress in the field over the last 217 years or so. It would be like if every time you told someone you were a writer their first thought was Homer.” Smith says.

According to Smith, the process of composition in the days of Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms bears little resemblance to modern composition in the age of technology. Today, composition mostly happens in front of a computer screen, with the convenient option of immediate and simultaneous playback of simulations of various instruments. Although composition programs such as Logic and Sibelius take considerable time and patience to master, once proficient, they certainly expedite the process in comparison to the practice’s former restrictions.

In addition to self-educating himself on composition and notation programs, guitar, and the history of famous composers, Smith began teaching and writing for high school percussion sections at the age of 17. Although standing in front of students of the same age (and even older seasoned veterans) as a teacher was certainly daunting, this challenging opportunity ultimately shaped Smith and opened many doors for him. In the years following high school graduation Smith continued to teach, conduct, and arrange for dozens of award-winning bands, percussion ensembles, indoor performing groups, and drum corps throughout North Alabama, South Alabama and Middle Tennessee.

Smith learned in 2016 that he had been accepted to an exclusive artist residency secluded in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. Heading to the residency was an opportunity for Smith to escape the distraction of his everyday life in the Shoals, while also providing him with a sense of familiarity to the mountains he grew up in. Azule is remotely located with zero cellphone and very limited internet access. This provides artists with the rare opportunity to disconnect from technology and constant communication for weeks at a time and intensely focus on the task at hand, whatever it may be. For Smith that was his three-act ballet, The Singularity.

According to Smith, he has considered writing a ballet as a sort of compositional rite of passage ever since becoming interested in composer Igor Stravinsky. However, it was not until a discussion with a fellow philosophy minor at a party that the inspiration for the ballet’s storyline came to him. During said discussion, Smith was introduced for the first time to the concept of technological singularity (the term used for the moment in which technology reaches the capability of human thought-and then surpasses it). Smith became fascinated with this subject, and began researching the modern philosophical theories surrounding it. Soon there was no doubt in his mind that this was his story to tell, and he decided to write his ballet about the concept during the time he was preparing to spend at the residency.

When Smith drove back down the mountain stretch from Azule he had 25 minutes of music, a written storyline, and a vision for the overall artistic design of his ballet. Upon his return to Florence Smith got right back to work finding a choreographer, a venue, instrumentalists and a dancer. Upon recommendation from close friend and UNA professor, Alan Flowers, Smith contacted the Zodiac Theater about having their venue debut The Singularity. The theater was happy to oblige, and eager to promote an unprecedented type of music to be coming from the Shoals.

The ballet progresses in three acts and is tell the story of a computer gaining self-awareness. Although not a dancer himself, Smith’s creativity certainly doesn’t stop at the end of the ledger lines. His vision extended as far as his own abilities could carry him, and then even further. Set on a blank white background with minimal details, colored lights, movement, and sound will come together to enhance the multisensory experience and further the story. The small group of eight local instrumentalists chosen by Smith have been tirelessly rehearsing for months in preparation to play backstage both nights as the scenes come to life onstage.

Local dancer Karlee Mauk will serve as choreographer for the production. Smith and Mauk have collaborated together to conceptualize a combination of classic pointe with modern dance. Mauk has modified classic techniques and movements to create a completely original style entirely of her own.

On their twelfth birthdays most children don’t throw all their toys away to make an office, but on their 25th birthdays, most ordinary people don’t premiere their own ballets. Jeremy Smith is not most people. And Muscle Shoals is about to be home to more than just soul music. On April 21 and 22nd at the Zodiac Theater, Smith will debut his long awaited premiere ballet, The Singularity. Tickets for go on sale March 1 and are available at Shoals Theater Box Office, Blank, Traditions Barbershop, Eleven-54 on Wood, The Eclectic, and Underground Art and Sound. Be sure not to miss out on some of the unique and promising talent the Shoals has ever produced.