Inhaling slowly, he pauses to look at the two hundred filled seats in the auditorium, all eyes on him. As he exhales he recalls the staccatos and crescendos he so diligently practiced and places his fingers on the keys, ready for what he knows he was born to do: play the organ.
This past June, University of South Dakota sophomore Wyatt Smith competed against four of the country’s best organ performers in Des Moines, Iowa, where he attained the highest honor possible at the
American Guild of Organists Regional Competition.
Smith was required to play a hymn piece, a J.S. Bach piece, a romantic composition and a 20th century piece and to be judged by a panel of three highly-ranked organ players.
Smith has been played piano since he was seven years old. He moved onto the organ after three years and quickly knew that he had found his niche.
“I remember not wanting to listen very much at my first organ practice because I just wanted to play,” Smith said.
In 2005, Smith became a member of the American Guild of Organists and has joined three other organizations since.
Smith said being a part of these groups has allowed him to travel and perform extensively throughout the US and attend various conferences.
With over 50 concerts to choose from, designating a favorite venue isn’t easy, Smith said. His fondest memories are in the United States Air Force Academy Protestant Chapel in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“The Chapel is such an iconic building that it was a fabulous opportunity,” he said.
However, such excellence cannot be attained without dedication and extreme determination, Smith said.
Practicing anywhere from three hours on a normal day to five hours a day in preparation for an upcoming concert, Smith said he must also travel to the venue site three days in advance to accustom himself with a new organ.
“One disadvantage as an organist is that when we travel to perform we do not get to carry our own instrument with us, like a brass or woodwind player would,” Smith said.
Helping him along his musical journey are various teachers and other performers. Smith said many of the people he meets through conventions invite him to perform at their churches or universities.
At USD, Smith is mentored by Larry Schou, interim dean of USD’s College of Fine Arts and professor in the Department of Music.
“(Schou) opened my eyes to a whole new world of organ repertoire, especially pieces that I would not normally have chosen to play had he not assigned them,” Smith said.
One of the pieces Schou assigned to Smith ended up being on the list that was played this past June at the competition.
Schou said Smith has brought a new dimension to the university’s music department.
“(Smith) has really gotten the music department as a whole excited,” Schou said. “He has been playing for the choir and you can tell his classmates are very enthused to have him for.”
After completing his degree at USD, Smith said he would like to receive his Master and Doctoral degrees in organ performance, hopefully someday teaching organ at the university level.
As a result of winning the The American Guild of Organists Regional Competition, he will be traveling to Nashville, Tenn., in July 2012 to perform as a “Rising