PYAO member, Kealia Grace Smith, loves playing the cello. A resident of Manahawkin, NJ, she has been member of the Philadelphia Young Artist Orchestra since the start of the 2021-2022 season, and was previously a member of YMDO. She created a musical YouTube video to support the Ukrainian refugees, arranging their national anthem in four parts for cello and playing it on the beach in her hometown.

Link to Video

Kealia wanted to encourage people to donate money to help the Ukrainian refugees. She’s so committed to music – it became her vehicle for bringing attention to the plight of the Ukrainians. Kealia said, “I’ve been very upset about everything in Ukraine, and it really pains me to see what’s happening there. Watching people evacuate, especially little kids and pets, is so difficult for me. I wanted to bring a little comfort and hope to everyone who’s impacted by the conflict in Ukraine.”

Maestra Rosalind Erwin, Director of the Philadelphia Young Artists Orchestra,made her colleagues aware of the extraordinary efforts of Kealia, who never heard the music until now. She learned it to make this video. She said, “I actually looked at videos of people performing the Ukrainian National Anthem, most in large choirs. I arranged it into four parts for cello and recorded myself playing each part individually and then I put it all together. I performed it on the beach, 10 minutes from my house. My mom and dad used their phones to record the video. My dad also brought our recording of the audio for me to listen to.”

When asked her interest in music, she said, “I’ve had an interest in music since I was really little. One of the shows I liked was “Little Einsteins”, and they talked a lot about music there. I started piano lessons at age six, but I also really wanted to play in an orchestra, so I listened to different instruments, and the rich tone of the cello stood out for me. I started playing that when I was 8. I also started playing clarinet in school the year after.”

Very committed to being a member of the Philadelphia Young Artists Orchestra and other orchestras, she explained how she came to perform with them. She said, “My band teacher thought PYOMI would be a good organization for me because he was in it when he was a child. We looked into it, and I auditioned and got into YMDO last year and now I’m in PYAO (Philadelphia Young Artists Orchestra). PYAO has been so great for me. I’m surrounded by so many amazing musicians. I love how Maestra Rosalind Erwin encourages the students to reach their fullest potential. I also take the conducting class and love that. It helps me grow so much as a musician, getting to know what happens on the podium. I look at the orchestra with a whole new perspective now.”

Kealia is an 8th grade online student. Next year she will attend MATES (Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science) in Manahawkin. She’d like to major in both music and veterinary science or neuroscience.

In addition to PYAO, she is a member of Symphony in C Youth Orchestra in Haddonfield, NJ, and a band member of SJBODA (South Jersey Band and Orchestra Directors Association) Regions String Ensemble on cello and Junior High Band on clarinet, each of which perform one weekend a year. Her day involves school and practicing and on Monday, after school, she rehearses for Symphony in C, Thursday she has lessons for cello and piano and Sundays she sings in the church choir before her PYAO rehearsals.