Flutist Marla Smith’s story is one that many VCU Music students and alumni can relate to. A native of Chesapeake, VA, she attended Hickory High School and then the Governor’s School for the Arts in Norfolk, VA, Marla came to Richmond after a long and lively familiarity with the performing arts. After her contact with classmates who attended VCU Music and were progressing well into their artistry, a lesson with assistant professor and flutist Tabatha Easley, and a guest conductor appearance by Daniel Myssyk, her decision to become part of the VCU Music family was solidified.
Marla’s attraction to the flute was immediate. Deciding the instrument was pretty after seeing light reflecting off it, it wasn’t too long after she began taking band and private lessons with “Young Musicians of Virginia” while being homeschooled. Since then, her resume has grown and grown over the years. Accolades range from playing with Bay Youth Symphony Orchestras, competing to perform with regional orchestras, and gaining first chair in the All-State Orchestra in her sophomore and junior years of high school. In 2008, she made it to the final round of the National Flute Association’s high school soloist competition as one of eight flutists. Wow!
While at VCU, Marla has played in a variety of ensembles including chamber groups and the VCU Symphony. “I love collaborating with smaller groups,” she recently said. But Marla was quick to add, “Symphony is my thing.” Playing with VCU Symphony under the baton of Daniel Myssyk for four years has been one of Marla’s favorite things. In VCU Opera’s most recent production, The Magic Flute, Marla was given a perfect send-off to her undergraduate music career as being “the magic flute.”
But after much hard work, including countless hours in practice rooms, Marla is off to Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY where she will pursue her Master’s degree in flute performance. Her future is bright. When asked about her goals, she knows she would like to play in a major symphony orchestra someday. Orchestras have been a part of her journey for over half of her life. As part of her graduate teaching assistantship at Eastman, she’ll be playing in a conducting orchestra with those studying music on both the undergraduate and graduate levels, teaching music education majors, and working as an assistant to Bonita Boyd.
“I cannot say enough wonderful sentiments about Marla Smith,” Tabatha Easley said. “She is an exemplary musician but also a magnificent person. Marla is also extremely driven. She would go the extra mile inher quest for knowledge and experience, following through with every suggestion made.”
Marla’s “roomie”, friend, and musical partner Denver Walker agrees. She noted that Marla is “…super hard working. She is a very bold and confident performer. She might be the best musician I’ve ever played with. She plays so well technically and has a really good feel for music.” Marla and Denver have performed together for nearly two years as part of their flute and guitar group, Duo Allegro. While the two of them get along very well, sadly, their two cats, Bailey and Baku, don’t. “They get in these punching fights,” Denver said laughingly.
As far as advice Marla would like to give to others still working through their undergraduate career she said, “Make sure you’re doing what you love to do. You have to have passion for what you’re doing. With music, you’re presenting something to the world and you have to make it your own. You have to make it real.”
While Marla was able to make the program “real” for her and her goals, she realizes that her time at VCU Music presented its own set of challenges. Like many students, Marla realized that balance might be the most difficult part of VCU Music. “[My] first two years at VCU Music were a whirlwind.” Having to balance all of the facets of responsibility, the transition from high school to college, to a new location, to balancing core academic courses with music requirements, while finding time to practice can leave any music major a little exhausted.
Besides her graduate studies, Marla is working on an innovative social media tool for classical musicians called noteKritik. The site will provide helpful feedback on members’ performance progress from musical professionals. She is currently fundraising for this tool which will help so many young musicians expand their artistry and network with other musicians around the world. Outside of her musical studies, Marla enjoys reading and exploring Richmond. “[I love] the diversity of the people and all the different places you can go. You can go to Maymont or Belle Isle and feel like you’re somewhere else.”
“You never stop growing,” Marla said. With such a positive outlook on her own future and the futures of her classmates, Marla Smith will certainly go far. Good luck, Marla. You’ve certainly made us all proud.