Mercedes Smith – On Music And Ballet

Living in Chicago I was excited when the Joffrey Ballet decided to do live music for their performances in the coming year. It got me thinking about what it must be like for those who play the music…

Enter Mercedes Smith – recently appointed Principal Flutist of the Utah Symphony | Utah Opera. Mercedes has also served as Principal Flutist of the Houston Grand Opera and Houston Ballet Orchestras. I reached out to her for some thoughts on ballet, playing for dancers and what live music can bring to a performance.

Here’s what she had to say…

What has your exposure been to ballet thus far in your life?

Other than a few years of ballet when I was a small child, my first real experience with ballet was in 2004 when I was appointed Principal Flutist of the Houston Ballet Orchestra.  For the mixed repertory performances the orchestra often didn’t play on all three “acts” of the ballet, so I would sit in the audience and watch during those pieces.  Since I was was often sitting in on multiple rehearsals and performances of the same pieces, I was able to see different dancer’s interpretations of the same works and this really helped me to appreciate the art form.

As a musician, what do you feel live music can bring to a ballet?

Live music greatly enhances the experience both the audience and dancers have during a performance.  Having a live orchestra affords that the tempo of the music can be adjusted specifically for each dancer when necessary and is crucial for performance so that the dancers are able to fully express the meaning of the work as well as their own personal interpretation of that work.

If you have played ballet music before, what is your favorite piece and why?

My favorite ballet is Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.  Prokofiev was a great orchestrator (lots of flute solos!) and his music if very colorful and full of character.

I think the most deceptive part of watching ballet is how effortless it looks.  One of my first basic impressions about ballet was that it might actually be effortless and you just need to be flexible to do it.  How wrong I was!  While working at Houston Ballet I was able to sit very near the front of the hall, often on the front row.  Seeing the dancers in performance close up helps you realize just how athletic an art form it really is!

BIO: Mercedes Smith is the newly appointed Principal Flutist of the Utah Symphony | Utah Opera. A Texas native, she served as Principal Flutist of the Houston Grand Opera and Houston Ballet Orchestras for nearly a decade.  She has performed with the San Diego Symphony, Houston Symphony, and served as Principal Flutist of the Pacific Symphony during the 2010-2011 season.  Most recently, she was awarded First Prize in the National Flute Association’s 2010 Young Artist Competition.  Ms. Smith was also the Second Prize winner of the 2007 Haynes International Flute Competition and top prizewinner of the Manhattan School of Music Concerto Competition.  As First Prizewinner of Artists International, she gave her New York Recital Debut in Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall in 2002.  Her debut featured solo and chamber works all by American composers including three world premieres.  Also as a recitalist, Ms. Smith performed at the Kunming International Arts Festival, China, in a performance that was televised throughout Asia.

Ms. Smith performed at the Hot Springs Music Festival for three years and was featured in the nationally televised PBS documentary “Sound of Dreams” highlighting the festival.  In previous summers, she has been a fellowship recipient at Tanglewood, Music Academy of the West, and was a member of the UBS Verbier Festival Orchestra in Switzerland.  As a chamber musician, she has performed at the Marlboro Music Festival, Bargemusic, Da Camera of Houston, and Musiqa Houston.

Ms. Smith was accepted as a scholarship student at the Manhattan School of Music at the age of 16 and is greatly indebted to her teachers Michael Parloff, Jeanne Baxtresser, and Dr. Ronda Mains.

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Catherine L. Tully is the owner/editor at To learn more about Catherine and the other contributors at 4dancers, see the "Contributor" tab at the top of the page. To reach Catherine, send an e-mail to info (at) 4dancers (dot) org

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