Meet the Musicians | Cameron Smith

Nevis Ensemble Marketing and PR Assistant, Isaac Boothman chats with Nevis cellist, Cameron Smith

How did you end up in Nevis Ensemble?

I joined Nevis back in December 2019 and was part of the December tour before 2020 came crashing down on all of us. I heard about the ensemble from colleagues of mine at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and really struck a chord with me about the work to bring classical music to people and performing in uncommon spaces outside of the concert hall.

One of my lifelong goals is to help facilitate a greater understanding of the language and grammar of classical music to the wider public, and to show how fun it is, especially outside a concert hall, which can feel like an intimidating and stifling environment sometimes!

Do you have a particular favourite Nevis memory?

It’s really hard to narrow it to a single favourite memory – there are so many moments I cherish and hold dear! If I had to pick, I would have to say one of my favourites is when we performed for Refuweegee in Glasgow. The audience and passers-by (looking in the window and standing at the open door to the street), were howling, cheering and singing along with us, and I remember feeling so overjoyed that we were able to bring that amount of unexpected merriment to people who were having an evening out.

How has your involvement in music changed your life or career?

Music has saved me in so many ways, and has absolutely helped shape me into the person I am today. It does sound a little cliché, but music was always this undoubted, unquestioned part of my inner core as I grew up. It was always “Cameron and his cello”, but I never thought about it until my last year of high school when I had no idea what I wanted to study for my undergrad. Growing up, music was – and still is! – my safe place that I could escape to, and became the vehicle that I was able to channel my emotions much easier when words failed me. Whenever life would start to feel too much, I would run to music and my cello as sort of a security blanket, where I could then process and reflect on things much easier. I’ve always loved story-telling and listening, and of course found great comfort in telling stories through music. Believe it or not, I had a leading role in my middle school’s musical theatre production at one point!

I specifically remember in 2005 (kid-me called it the “worst year of my life” back then!) my family was having some financial difficulties, so we had to wait to rent a cello out until the next school year. I was practicing cello for a couple years already, and then to suddenly needing to stop? I was absolutely miserable! When the next school year finally came around, there was an orchestral instruments try-out day, and I made a beeline for the cello. I actually started to cry a little bit the first few minutes I played it!

What would your ideal vision for music and the arts be?

I would focus a lot on understanding the language and grammar of music, and really encourage equal access to a quality music and arts education. Music is a language in itself, and there is this schism between an average music listener and understanding the ‘why’ of a composer and the uses of their forms, structures, and all the theory behind what their pieces are trying to say.

Around Mozart’s time, for instance, the general population had some general knowledge, to the point where they could recognise the humour when Mozart would decide to break the music theory “rules” in some compositions. But now, how would you explain to a passer-by how to listen to a classical sonata? How do you listen to a symphony, and how can you interpret what the composer is saying by listening to the grammar going on between all the parts? What do you even start listening for first?

There is a lot that is said about classical music. However, I believe that it’s not a question of whether it is “fading fast”, but that there is a growing number of listeners who would love to listen to a symphony, but do not know where to begin and feel overwhelmed, much like listening to some friends have an in-depth conversation in a language unknown to you. I think this can then can be tied with increasing the quality and accessibility of music education for everyone regardless if they are a child or an adult learner: allowing an emphasis on learning the language of music that can be readily accessed and skills easily built upon, so that listening to a large-scale work is much more active rather than feeling lost in the middle. 

What are you looking forward to doing with Nevis in the future?

With times permitting, I am looking forward most to a European tour with Nevis! That and working more with everyone in Nevis; I love collaborating and performing with everyone so much.

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND – DECEMBER 8: The Nevis Ensemble perform to the public during a pop up orchestra day, at the Atrium in the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, on December 8, 2019, in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

Describe a typical day for you.

It has drastically changed since the pandemic! I am currently on the MA Chamber Music course at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and it depends on what day of the week it is if I have more rehearsals that day. The days before my weekly lesson are spent (besides practising) getting used to recording myself more in preparation of sending progress recordings to my teacher; I do several hours of score study, analysis, and all that jazz after breakfast for which chamber ensemble group I have rehearsal with. The rest of the day then would be either classes online, composing, more practise, some form of exercise, reading, and definitely surfing the web.

What are your top three bucket list items?

  1. I would love to compose a piece for cello and a socially distanced chamber orchestra, perform the solo cello part, and play it at one of the big halls – that would be so cool!!
  2. Travel. There are lifetime amounts of things in the world to learn, to understand, and take to heart through travel, and that’s something I would love to more of. The scenario that plays out in my head is I close my eyes, spin and point to a random place on a map and travel to wherever I put my finger.
  3. Actually win the November National Novel Writing Month and break my streak of consecutive losses. The goal is to write 50,000 words of anything in the month of November, and if you do not reach the word count you lose. I have lost I think a grand total of 8 times in a row!

What is your favourite dessert and why?

Unpopular opinion incoming: I’m not a fan of sweets! That being said, I think my favourite dessert would have to be a dark chocolate orange. I don’t remember how it started, but it accidentally became a thing in my family where we would give a dark chocolate orange to each other over the holidays. Tasting one always reminds me of its role of a silly, nostalgic accident.

What is your favourite word and why?

Prestidigitation*. Ok, hear me out: I was in my first year of middle school and we were halfway through the semester I think, and we had this neat dual assignment and competition with our vocabulary books. You had to take 10-15 vocab words every week or so, and you had to use the new words in paragraphs you would write. We had a whole list of complicated vocab that we could use, but the kicker was if you were the first one to hand in a unique vocab word no one used within three weeks, you get to hang it in the school’s halls with your name. I remember Mrs. Taylor said “prestidigitation” and I just thought it was the coolest word.

[Ed: *conjuring tricks performed as entertainment.]

If you can swim in any liquid what would it be and why?

I would swim in ocean water, but it’d just be the ocean. I love the ocean so much it hurts.