“The SA College of Music was my first stop on a recent visit to Cape Town – walking those halls felt like coming home.”
Introducing Mikhaila Alyssa Smith, Bachelor of Music in Western Classical Composition (2017, UCT), MM Music Theory and Composition, specialising in Scoring for Film and Multimedia (2022, NYU).
“Music became part of my life when my parents surprised me with an Otto Bach upright piano when I was eight years old. I can also remember the exact moment I became aware of music in film. I was 12 years old, sitting in a movie theatre as music flooded the screen, and it impacted me so emotionally that I knew I wanted to be the person to make people feel what I was feeling.”
UCT laid the foundation for Mikhaila’s journey. She completed her BMus under the mentorship of Professor Hendrik Hofmeyr and studied piano with Franklin Larey. “UCT was an incredible starting point with incredible teachers.” During her third year, Mikhaila was selected to do a semester at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) studying orchestration, composition and piano. “This was my first trip to the US and at the heart of the film industry – I knew I would be back!” After graduating in 2017, she applied to and was accepted at New York University (NYU) to study composition and orchestration. “The opportunities to work in the film industry are so much greater in the US than SA.” Also, as with many US further education institutions, Mikhaila could customise her degree to build a bespoke curriculum with professors of her choice. The result was a package of master classes, exposure to recording studios, working with productions endto-end and amazing networking opportunities. In her final year, she won a film scoring competition and had a work premiered by the NYU Orchestra. “The city certainly instilled a deeper passion and confidence in me - New York gave me my voice to translate my music.”
The rest, as they say is history, albeit still in the making:
Mikhaila graduated from NYU in January 2022. Finding her voice as a composer and orchestrator also paid off when she called up Catherine Joy (president of the Alliance for Women Film Composers and founder and CEO of Joy Music House score production company in Los Angeles) and was given an opportunity to work for her company. This resulted in collaborating as an orchestrator on the film score for Look Both Ways starring Lili Reinhart and Luke Wilson, number one on Netflix in the US when it was released and with her name in the credits.
2022 has been a prolific year for Mikhaila. She has worked as an orchestrator on Hulu/Disney’s Rosaline, HBO’s Edge of the Earth, Peacock’s They/Them and two more productions - The Perfect Find (Netflix) and Moving On. She also has a solo album as a composer due for release soon: “It’s a body of work that reflects who I am.” Mikhaila is definitely on a trajectory to put her name up in lights – a trajectory she says that started at UCT, one that she is deeply grateful for. “I’m so proud to be part of UCT’s alumni network in the USA. As I begin the New York chapter, I believe it is so important to nurture, grow and celebrate this community, not only to support the university, but also to celebrate one another. It’s so beautiful to see UCT alumni doing such inspiring things in this incredible city. We have so much talent in diverse areas, so it’s a wonderful opportunity to use our position in New York City to inspire and to encourage. It will definitely involve beginning initiatives we feel are important and significant to us in New York and also beneficial to the larger UCT community. There is so much to look forward to!”