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Musical masterpiece

Parkville man’s original composition performed at Oak Crest

Created date

January 25th, 2011

Years ago, the music of famed Russian composer and pianist Rachmaninoff struck a chord with Robert Dick Smith that launched a lifelong appreciation of classical music and spawned a masterpiece of his own. As a teenager I worked as an usher at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., just four blocks from our house, says Smith, now living at Oak Crest, an Erickson Living community in Parkville, Md. It was during The Great Depression and money was scarce, so it was a great way to see all the concerts that came to town for free. Sometimes I even got paid for it. You can t beat that.

Lasting impression

Over the next seven years, Smith soaked up the sounds of the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra with Eugene Ormandy, and orchestras from New York, London, and abroad. But it was Sergei Rachmaninoff s Prelude in C Sharp Minor that hooked him on classical music for good. I enjoyed other kinds of music, but for some reason I was drawn to classical, says Smith. I guess I attended so many concerts over the years, it just grew on me. After listening to Rachmaninoff, I was so impressed and inspired that I went to a buddy s house and began to try to duplicate it in my own way on the piano, says Smith. From that point on, including 20 years of service as a U.S. Air Force pilot, Smith composed his own classical piece, Life: An Impromptu, in his mind. I didn t know how to play the piano at the time; I would just hit whichever note sounded good to me and pleased my ear, says Smith, who, without access to a piano, says he often made dating choices based on whether or not she owned a piano. In 1973, Smith completed his composition, but with no musical training, he was unable to translate his tune to paper and so he turned to his grandson s piano teacher, Leia Singer. For two days, Singer worked with Smith converting the piece into sheet music form. She would follow my hands on the piano and write the notes as I played them, says Smith. It was a hard way to do it, but it was the only way I could get the music down on paper. Two years later, Smith and his wife, Sarah, bought a piano and he began learning chords and melodies. In 1998, Smith had his work titled and copyrighted, but he wouldn t rest until the piece had been played before an audience. After attending a classical concert at Oak Crest, Smith approached internationally accomplished pianist Elizabeth Borowsky for help. Mr. Smith has come to a number of my performances, says Borowsky, who performs at Oak Crest regularly. It is very unique that one person would be so inspired by one moment in time in Mr. Smith s case, the Rachmaninoff third encore and then pursue that passion relentlessly. So when he presented me with his music and asked if I would embellish it and then perform it, I couldn t say no. Borowsky has performed as a soloist with orchestras in the United States, Germany, Poland, China, and Israel. She has recorded multiple albums embraced by the public and critics alike, and she has composed and published music for piano, violin, cello, trio, and string orchestra. I first learned the music by listening to a recording Mr. Smith gave me of himself and paying close attention to the musical ideas he expressed through his playing on the score, says Borowsky. After learning the piece myself I focused on the sections I felt I could improve, lengthen, or needed a smoother transition.

Dream come true

Then on August 29, 2010, for the first time ever in front of a live audience, Borowsky performed Life: An Impromptu, preceded by the piece that launched Smith s musical journey: Prelude in C Sharp Minor. It s amazing to think that the fruition of this great labor of love finally was shared with the public some 80 years after his first experience with Rachmaninoff, says Borowsky. It simply stuns me when I think about it. And to be part of his experience was an honor. Following the performance, Smith was presented a personal letter of congratulations from Marin Alsop, internationally-acclaimed Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Smith says that, while he isn t working on any new arrangements, he continues to play for his own amusement at Oak Crest twice a week.