FIVE FIRSTS: Matthew Smedal
1. THE FIRST ALBUM I EVER BOUGHT WAS … Bette Middler. Some People’s Lives. I was 10. It was everything to me. You know, I used to be a little sheepish about that answer because I feel this pressure to say things like “Miles Davis, Kind of Blue” or “It was this album of newly discovered Handel arias for contra tenor and oboe” – because those are the types of answers people like me give, and we all then think, “Oh, my… such an advanced child!” No. My jam was Bette, and I spent my free time trying to play the songs by ear on the piano.
2. THE FIRST CONCERT THAT I EVER SAW WAS … Well, I remember the first musical I ever saw. It was a high school production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” I was enamored, and I spent most of my time watching the conductor. I mean, I also loved what was going on onstage, but I sort of inexplicably concerned myself with what the conductor was doing the whole time. Wait, hold on – I could be inadvertently lying to you. My grammar school had a program where they would take us to see Gilbert and Sullivan operettas put on by our local G&S Society twice a year (Do those even exist anymore?). And much the same, I was glued to the conductor every time we went. Gosh, those were the best two days of school a year. I don’t think I’ve thought about that in a long time!
3. THE FIRST MUSICAL INSTRUMENT I EVER OWNED OR PLAYED WAS … A recorder. I was in a recorder ensemble that played Bach fugues before I was in kindergarten. Which, by the way, seemed like a very normal activity to me. After that it was a brief stint with the guitar, a multi-year relationship with the trombone (mostly because my father loved Dixieland jazz and the ‘slide-trombone’), and a very tumultuous and short-lived relationship with the trumpet. And there was always singing. Gosh, I loved to sing as a child. I discovered the piano at summer camp one year and came home playing a song I had taught myself by ear. After opening the lid of that beat-up, out of tune, old piano in the lodge at summer camp I never looked back.
4. THE FIRST SONG THAT I EVER PERFORMED IN PUBLIC WAS … Oh, I honestly wish I could remember… I’m cruising toward 40 at lightning speed, and my childhood suddenly seems so far away! I definitely remember playing the lead in a Christmas pageant at church when I was in the eighth grade. The show was called “Angels Aware” (I’m pretty sure I could still sing you every lyric). I was playing the angel Michael, and I had to sing a belt-C – like, the belt-C that the girls who play Elphaba in “Wicked” end :The Wizard and I” with – and my voice cracked. Hard. I mean, in my mind it was like the crack heard ’round the world. And then my aunt burst out laughing in the back of the church. I was mortified.
5. THE FIRST BAND I WAS EVER IN WAS … Very technically this would be Mr. Norris’ fourth grade beginner band. Poor Mr. Norris, we probably sounded terrible. I moved pretty quickly into leading the band though. My high school drama teacher sort of exploded into the music room one day during my sophomore year proclaiming that he was going to put on a musical and that he needed a music director. I was sitting at the piano minding my own business, and he – very dramatically – threw his arm out, pointed at me and said, “You, over there at the piano. You’re going to be my music director!” Fast forward 25 years or so, and I’m still doing the same gig. Albeit at a slightly higher level.
Matthew Smedal is the musical director and conductor for the touring company of the stage musical “The Bodyguard”, which will run at Proctors in Schenectady from tonight (January 30)-Sunday (February 4). Tickets range from $20-$85.