Emerson Smith

Emerson Smith began piano study at the age of 7 and became a scholarship student with Dr. Stephen Cook at the Pasadena Conservatory of Music in 2015. She participated in the PCM Chamber Music Intensive in 2017, the Jazz Ensemble in 2018, and has been active in masterclasses (Andrew Park, Bernadene Blaha, Raymond Ericson, Ning An, Joel Clift) and Pasadena Art Night.

As a student at the California School of the Arts San Gabriel Valley, she has participated in the pit orchestra for a number of productions, been the pianist for the CSArts Jazz Ensemble, and has served as a student ambassador for the Dragon Kim Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to providing music instruction to underserved populations in the Duarte community. Emerson has received awards from the Southern California Junior Bach Festival, the Southwestern Youth Music Festival, and the California Association of Professional Music Teachers. Emerson will attend California State University Long Beach in the Fall of 2021 as a scholarship student of Craig Richey.

Young blonde woman in a pink dress sitting at the piano

I am incredibly grateful for everything PCM and Dr. Cook have given me. I wouldn’t be half the musician I am today without all the tools that were given to me. Every masterclass, competition, lesson, jury, and performance allowed me to grow and had a huge effect on the trajectory of my life. Dr. Cook alone has changed the way I view music and life. He is the reason I decided to go to CSArts, where I was able to explore my interest in jazz and further developed my love of collaboration.

The summer before my freshman year I participated in the PCM Summer Chamber Music Intensive. The Callisto Trio performed the Shostakovich Piano trio No.2 in E minor for us. I remember thinking “wow that’s what I want to do”. In that moment I discovered my passion for collaborative music. I began to seek out more opportunities to perform with other people. I joined the CSArts jazz ensemble, and in my junior year I decided to join my school’s musical theater pit ensemble.

3 young women at the piano being coached by their male teacher

For a little while, I played in Dr. Briggs’ jazz ensemble at PCM. Dr. Briggs is a one-of-a-kind mentor. His passion for music is infectious and he always somehow incorporates pearls of wisdom about life into his lessons, making the experience in his ensemble super unique and valuable.

I also really loved the masterclasses at Pasadena Conservatory. It’s always enlightening to get another point of view on pieces as well as get a head start on connections to the awesome faculty at colleges throughout California. I met Professor Craig Richey in 2017, ever since that master class I was determined to attend Cal State Long Beach.

Girl being coached by male teacher at the piano

As I get ready for college, I am thankful for juries. I always thought that the juries were the most terrifying part about PCM. Looking back, I realize how much those were preparing me for college and how valuable that feedback was. I felt similarly about competitions. They were always so scary.

My first competition was the Bach festival when I was 12. I remember one of my parents telling me not to get my hopes up about making it to the next round since it was my first time doing it. But, surprisingly I made it through to the second round. My freshman year of high school I got first place in SYMF. I was so nervous that I left before the results had come out. A month later Dr. Cook got a first place plaque in the mail. I started thinking of competitions more like I do about recitals. I’m sharing my love of music with other people, even if there is a panel of judges, it doesn’t change that I am sharing something beautiful.

You would think that preparing for college auditions and my senior recital would have been made easier by the Covid lockdown. I had way more time to myself, I didn’t have to study as much, and I wasn’t exhausted from my usual commute to school. But actually, I felt isolated and incomplete during this time. Uncertainty about the future was overwhelming and affected my ability to focus.

Prior to Covid I constantly collaborated and was surrounded by people. Isolated at home, I felt incomplete. I love playing the piano by myself, but the lockdown intensified my desire to play with other people to fulfill my artistic needs. Submitting recorded auditions felt strange. I never played for anyone live, except for a short sight reading audition for UCSB. I had a few college interviews over zoom. But, I never got to be on the different campuses. I never met any new people. I felt disconnected from the experience.

On a more positive note, my recorded auditions helped get me accepted to almost every college I submitted to. (Thank you Dr. Cook!) and when I did get to actually speak to the professors and current students I found a new excitement for college and I look forward to pursuing new collaborative opportunities.

I am so glad I got to spend so much time with Dr. Cook. I have never met someone so funny and talented in my life. A lesson with Dr. Cook feels like a conversation about music. An hour has never felt shorter than the hour I spent in my lessons with Dr. Cook every week. I am so grateful for the knowledge he gifted to me, and for the support and joy he took in my accomplishments. He was always incredibly patient with me and probably deserves a medal for dealing with me for all 7 years.

Dr. Cook was truly like a third parent to me. I knew I could always count on him and he always cared for me. Watching him perform was always so inspirational and I can only hope that I become half the musician he is.