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SEK Symphony performs with alumnus Robert Dean Smith

The SEK Symphony is known for performing with guest artists, but Robert Dean Smith is hardly a guest; he merely returned to home. 

The Southeast Kansas (SEK) Symphony at Pittsburg State University held their opening night concert on Thursday, Oct. 17 at 7:30 p.m. in the Linda and Lee Scott Hall at the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts. The concert featured guest artist and dramatic tenor Robert Dean Smith, a PSU alumnus in music performance and music education. The orchestra performed by themselves during the first half, playing pieces such as “Bolero” by Maurice Ravel, and “Siegfried’s Funeral Music” from “Gottërdämmerung” by Richard Wagner. Additionally, they performed “Columbia: A Fanfare for Brass and Percussion” by PSU professor of music composition John C. Ross, and they premiered a piece, “Legends and Other Lies” by local PSU composer Barbara York. 

“It’s a dream come true,” said Raúl Munguía, professor of violin and director of the SEK Symphony at Pittsburg State University. “It’s been a year and a half into the planning and having him on campus is one of those experiences I will never forget in my life… As an educator, as a professional player, as a professional artist, I think this is one of those moments you don’t forget.” 

Munguía and the orchestra have been rehearsing for this performance since August and he said that the experience of working with Smith was “absolutely invaluable” for him and his students. 

“The kids will always remember this moment,” Munguía said. “Everything intensifies when he (Robert Dean Smith) is here… He is demanding. He is asking for things. He works in a very professional way, and the kids experience that… Not only from me, but from him… He tells the horn player, ‘Horn, you came in one beat too early’… It’s just amazing.” 

Smith came to campus during the week of the performance and rehearsed with the orchestra in the evenings and gave a master class to students studying voice in the music department on Thursday. 

“It was a great pleasure (to come back to PSU)…,” Smith said. “It was exciting because there were a lot of students, and of course I can empathize in their situation of the playing and the pressure and the challenge… Some of the pieces I brought are rather difficult but it’s a good step forward for them…” 

The orchestra performed seven pieces with Smith including: “Schmerzen,” “Träume,” and “Introduction & Prayer” from “Rienzi” by Richard Wagner, three art songs of Richard Strauss, “Ständchen,” “Morgen” and “Befreit,” and “Quando le sere al placido” from Giuseppe Verdi’s “Luisa Miller.” 

“For me, it’s also very difficult because there’s a lot of people that I know in the audience, and that’s the toughest kind of audience,” Smith said. “It was a big challenge and a big step for me…” 

When Smith came to Pitt State originally, he said he was unsure of what his career path was, only that he knew he needed to be involved in music. 

“I knew I had to do something in music. I didn’t know if that was teaching, selling music, playing music, whatever..,” Smith said. “As time went on, I just wanted to see how far I could take it… I didn’t care about being the best. I wanted to be the best that I could be… Those steps lead me to where I am…” 

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