Baritone Reginald Smith Jr. has had a busy 2015: he has traveled to Russia and across the United States for opera and concert performances and was also a winner of the 2015 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, one of the world’s most prestigious opera singing competitions (past winners have included Renée Fleming, Susan Graham, Thomas Hampson and many other stars of the world’s opera stages). Despite his busy schedule, this charming and down-to-earth Atlanta native and current Houston resident found time to answer a few questions about his upcoming performances with the Houston Symphony. At this weekend’s Very Merry Pops holiday concerts, Mr. Smith will treat us to his rendition of How the Grinch Stole Christmas as well as other favorite Christmas songs.
Calvin Dotsey: We all know the classic song from How the Grinch Stole Christmas. What’s the secret to singing it really well?
Reginald Smith Jr.: You know, the big secret to singing the song is simply… sing the song! Everyone knows it. If you try to get overly animated with the song, you can sometimes lose the pure Grinchiness that is already so wonderfully written in. So, for me, the key is to really sing and enjoy each and every word of this holiday classic. It has always been one of my favorites, and I am so excited to sing it this year with the Houston Symphony!
CD: You are a recent alumnus of the HGO Studio, so you have been living in Houston for a while. Do you have any favorite spots in our fair city?
RS: Houston has so many hidden gems. I am very fortunate that I live close to one them! In the mornings, when the air is still crisp and the sun is rising, I love to take a walk along Buffalo Bayou. It is stunningly beautiful, incredibly relaxing, and on some rare occasions, one can see the ducks and turtles playing in the water. It is remarkable that I can enjoy all of these things in the middle of a major metropolis such as Houston.
CD: When did you first start singing?
RS: Well, I began singing at an early age. I am so very fortunate to have grown up in a musical household. My mother sings gospel and was the church choir director when I was growing up, so my brothers, sisters and I quickly became the core of the choir. Even to this day when we gather as a family, we will still sit around and sing gospel music together as a family. It is always a highlight of my trips home.
CD: When did you know you wanted to pursue singing as a career?
RS: Interestingly enough, before ever wanting to sing for a living, I always wanted to be an educator. I unapologetically and unashamedly often admit to being a “choir nerd.” I love choral music and choral works. Consequently, besides having a degree in Vocal Performance, I also have a degree in Choral Music Education (K-12). Although I love teaching and working with young students, I really made the decision to pursue a career in performing during my collegiate studies. I think it has been a good choice so far.
CD: You recently won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. What was that experience like?
RS: The experience at the Metropolitan Opera was exhilarating! It seemed almost like a dream. Imagine, one day you are in your cozy apartment in Houston; the next day you are at the Metropolitan Opera and Maestro Placido Domingo passes you in the hallway. Come on, how awesome is that?! The people were so amazing to each of the finalists, and we all got along so well. It was truly an extraordinary experience. It is a memory that I will have forever.
CD: What is the strangest thing that has ever happened to you while performing?
RS: When I was in high school, I sang with a fantastic community chorus for high school students. We came from all over the city of Atlanta and were a select group of about 30 kids. The big concert of the year was always the alumni holiday concert, and one year, I happened to be a soloist. As I began to sing my solo, I felt a buzz in my pocket. Then, a strange noise soon followed. I saw people in the audience look around with disapproving scowls at the sound of what was clearly a cell phone that had not been turned off. As everyone looked around to see who didn’t turn off, I realized that I was the culprit all along! Yep, my cell phone was ringing in my pocket on stage while I was singing the solo. Absolutely mortified, I slowly and discreetly slipped my hand in my pocket and turned it off without anyone noticing. After that experience, I always turn my phone off before every rehearsal and performance and don’t take it with me. (Paige, if you are reading this, I’ve finally admitted all these years later that it was me!)
CD: You will be sharing the Jones Hall stage with St. Nick himself during our Very Merry Pops concerts. If you could ask Santa for anything for Christmas, what would you ask for?
RS: Well, growing up I was always taught that it is better to give than to receive. Even to this day, I never expect presents, but I always wish for others to be safe and happy. That being said, I do think that one of those little hover boards would be fun. Maybe I will ask Santa to get one for my nieces and nephews. Then, I’ll be helping others… and I can just try it out on Christmas!
CD: What do you like to do when you aren’t practicing, performing or traveling to your next concert?
RS: One of my favorite things to do is cook! I like to cook and try new recipes. In college, I would often have friends over to my place for “Dinner and a Disney” (because I love animated Disney movies too! #NoShame). When I am travelling, it is not always the case that you have the luxury of a kitchen. So, I try to take advantage of that when I am home. I love to catch up with friends, relax and cook some down home Southern cooking. Y’all should come on by!
Don’t miss Very Merry Pops with special guest artist Reginald Smith Jr. December 11, 12, & 13, 2015! For tickets and more information, click here.