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Pianist, 16, is a splendid composition of talent, smarts, heart

Cydney Smith, 16, practices and composes for a couple of hours every day on her Steinway baby grand at home in Thonotosassa. The rising Armwood High School senior has been playing since she was 3 and recently produced a CD of her songs. But wait, there’s more: She’s composing a symphony and writing a novel.

SKIP O\u2019ROURKE | Times

Cydney Smith, 16, practices and composes for a couple of hours every day on her Steinway baby grand at home in Thonotosassa. The rising Armwood High School senior has been playing since she was 3 and recently produced a CD of her songs. But wait, there’s more: She’s composing a symphony and writing a novel.


Cydney Smith makes beautiful music. Her fingers delicately flit across the ivories and passionately pound out the melody. • Her music has feeling. Her music has meaning. She knows each measure well. And she should. She composed the song. • Cydney, 16, has played the piano since she was 3. She's skilled in classical music and loves Chopin and Haydn. But she's got something that most music lovers her age only dream of: a professionally recorded CD of her own music. It's even copyrighted. • "It feels amazing," she said in an interview this week. "It was a goal I had, and I did it." • Cydney composed her first song, When Light Falls into Darkness, three years ago. She studied famous compositions and analyzed music theory. It took her five months to write the piece.

As she plays the song, her face freezes in concentration. Her fingers dextrously jump across her black Steinway & Sons baby grand piano.

The piano, a gift from her parents, sits in a high-ceilinged alcove. It's the first thing visitors see when they walk into the family's custom-designed house that sits on 3 acres in a gated Thonotosassa community.

Cydney's father owns a medical supplies distribution company; her mother, who has a doctorate in applied anthropology, helps with the business.

Her parents introduced her to the piano as a child, just as they had their two older children. Their eldest daughter moved on to acting. Their son favored the saxophone, but Cydney stuck with the piano.

"I think it's great that she's pursuing her passion," her mother, Wilma Smith, said.

'Extraordinary' talent

Cydney takes weekly lessons with teacher Olga Kuehl-White at her South Tampa studio. She practices and composes for a couple of hours each day and never has to be prodded by her parents.

Kuehl-White said Cydney's talent is "extraordinary." Her pieces are original and creative, she said.

"She's finding the most unusual rhythms and harmonic progressions," she said.

Smith loves hearing her daughter's music in the house, and she keeps Cydney's CD in her car.

"If we're not listening to NPR (National Public Radio), we're listening to Cydney," she said.

As she plays, Cydney deftly transitions from sweet, dreamlike sections to crashing arpeggios. The song is dramatic yet sad. It's about dark times, both political or social, and how they sometimes can motivate people to do good. It was partly inspired by the genocide in Darfur, Sudan, she said.

A rising senior at Armwood High School, Cydney wants to encourage people with her music. She wrote two movements called In Remembrance of Grandma, about her maternal grandmother, who died in 2001. The songs are about loss, grief and moving on. She hopes they will help others through tough times.

That's where the CDs play a role.

"I feel if I have an album, I can expose people to my music," she said.

She recorded 12 songs in December in just one take. Her parents ordered 200 copies. They've sold some and given some away to friends and family. She plans to sell the rest on her soon-to-be-launched Web site,

She's already working on her next album. She plans to include lyrics and other instruments, such as the trumpet and saxophone. She'll compose the music, play the piano and have others record the remaining parts.

Even though Cydney loves Chopin's waltzes, her favorite composer is Elton John.

"He can do everything," she said. "He can do pop. He can do rock, and he's classically trained."

And he's fun. That's what Cydney wants people to think about her music.

"I kind of want to change the music of my generation and show them that piano really can be fun," she said.

A writer, too

Cydney loves recording albums, but she doesn't want to major in piano performance in college or focus on recording. She'd like to compose music for films, and she hopes to write novels and screenplays.

She's already 390 pages into her first novel, a historical fiction book about a recent event. She won't divulge specifics until it's published. Her family plans to have it self-published, just like the CD.

In May, Cydney showcased two of her songs at Armwood's music department's spring concert. It went well, she said, and it felt amazing when a man approached her at the end and said her music moved him.

"That's why I do it," she said.

The orchestra didn't accompany her because she hasn't written parts for all the instruments, an ambitious task. But that won't stop her from one day playing with an orchestra. She's starting to compose a symphony that will feature African instruments.

Cydney hopes to attend a selective liberal arts college, maybe Vassar College or Sarah Lawrence College, to study music composition and writing.

And if the music and writing plan doesn't work out, she figures she can fall back on medicine. Her favorite subject is chemistry, and surgery seems like it'd be fun, she said.

But for now, music is her passion.

"To know that I composed these songs and that I can share them with people feels amazing," she said.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at or (813) 661-2443.

On the Web

To listen to
Cydney play, visit

Pianist, 16, is a splendid composition of talent, smarts, heart 06/11/09 [Last modified: Thursday, June 11, 2009 4:07pm]
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