Bright future: Natchez High student makes music shine on Australia stage

Published 12:15 am Wednesday, September 13, 2017


NATCHEZ — Delphine Brent didn’t realize a simple question for her son would lead him to some of the world’s finest orchestra halls.

One day in 2013, just after her son, Darren Smith, came home from baseball practice, the two sat down to watch American Idol together.

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A violinist stepped onto the stage and though Brent cannot remember which piece the contestant was playing, she remembers how her son loved it.

Smith had never seen a violin — not in person or on TV that he could remember.

His mother turned to him and asked, “Would you like to learn to play that?”

“I saw that he was interested in the violin when the contestant was playing it and I asked him,” Brent said. “He’s been playing ever since.”

This July, Smith played his violin in the Sydney Opera House in Australia as the only African-American boy in the High School Honors Performance Series Orchestra, a program which recognizes young musicians and takes them to premier music halls in the United States and Australia.

This comes just one year after the Natchez High School sophomore played in Carnegie Hall in New York as a part of the same program.

Smith said he loves to play. He loves the different sound that comes from each viola or violin that he picks up and decoding the challenging music pieces.

“The instrument is a wonderful thing,” he said. “It helps you mentally and spiritually. When you’re playing it’s not just you playing the instrument. It’s the instrument playing with you.”

Brent said she was nervous when she and George Smith, Darren’s father, sat in the crowd in Sydney. But Darren Smith said he wasn’t.

Two years ago, Smith didn’t get into the Middle School Honors Performance Series Orchestra the first time he applied in eighth grade. But, Brent said, her son didn’t give up.

“Practicing paid off,” she said. “The people in New York knew he had been practicing because he had improved.”

Practicing has become a part of Smith’s daily routine. He practices one hour a day on weekdays after homework and three hours a day on the weekend. On Saturdays, he goes to practice with the Mississippi Youth Symphony Orchestra.

“The hardest part is how much you practice with the time you have,” he said. “The music starts off challenging, but only you can make it easy.”

In Smith’s world, violin practice is second to only one thing: grades. Brent says she doesn’t push him to practice more than study, but often she doesn’t need to.

“He tries to keep the As and I told him, ‘Baby you can get a B,’” Brent said. “I’ve just been so proud of him.”

Brent remembers when Smith first began playing violin in 6th grade.  Back then, his pieces were not nearly as polished.

“When he first started learning he was just hitting against the violin and making noise ,” Brent said.

Brent had no background in the violin and at first didn’t know where to find a private tutor. A coworker at Merit Health Natchez, where Brent is a radiology technician, recommended someone.

“When he started going to his private lessons, he learned how to play it right,” she said.

When he’s not playing the violin, Smith said he loves reading, listening to music and is a member of JROTC at school, where he is in 10th grade.

Smith received the letter in March saying he would be playing in Australia, just three months before the performance.

They took the 15-hour flight to Qantas Airways in Sydney on July 7; the five-hour-per-day practice sessions started July 8.

The orchestra comprised children from 44 states as well as representatives of several countries around the world. Just a few feet away his parents sat watching.

Smith said he keeps in touch with friends he made from South Florida, Texas and Australia.

“I was so proud of him,” Brent said. “I am so very proud of him.”

Here in Natchez, Natchez High School Principal Tony Fields called Smith an exemplary student.

“He’s a very hard worker,” Fields said. “He takes pride in everything he does.”

Next year, Smith hopes to travel with the Mississippi Youth Symphony Orchestra to South America in the summer of 2018.

His longterm plans are to go to medical school and though he’s not sure which branch of medicine interests him most.

No matter what he chooses, he says he hopes to continue playing music.

“You have to enjoy the instrument if you want to play it,” Smith said. “I love it.”