By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
When Melissa Smith of Havre was in college studying music, her mother, Evelyn Smith, warned her that she wouldn't be able to make a living playing the piano.
Many years have passed since Melissa gave her first solo recital at age 14 and began playing at Van Orsdel United Methodist and other churches in Havre. Melissa has proven her mother wrong.
She operates a thriving music businesses in the San Francisco area with her husband, teaches piano and continues to be a featured performer.
At her mother's urging, several Hi-Line businesses are offering Melissa's two CDs - "The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant," and "Melissa Smith's Christmas on the Keys: Holiday Favorites for Solo Piano" - for sale.
"I listened to the Babar one and I was just excited," said Catherine Card, a part-time pastor at two local churches and owner of the new Heart of Joy Christian Bookstore in the Atrium Mall.
"It has classical music and the story both," Card said, adding that it's a good way to introduce children to classical music.
"The Christmas one is just gentle, good piano music," she said. She uses it as background music in the store.
Smith, in a phone interview from San Francisco, said the CDs are a product of her nearly lifelong love of playing the piano.
"I'm just not happy unless I'm doing it," she said.
The material rewards of being a musician may not be great, she said, but the spiritual and intangible ones are. Being able to go to her piano and play a sonata by Beethoven - and play it very well - gives her rewards that can't be found in the material world.
Melissa's exploration of music began in Havre when she was 7 years old. She began studying piano, and by the time she graduated from Havre High School in 1980, she had studied with many piano teachers in the community.
"She studied with everybody around," Evelyn Smith said.
After she earned a bachelor's degree in music from the University of Montana, she found herself pursuing another line of work. She became executive director of the Lewistown Arts Center.
"If you ever go to Lewistown, you must stop in. It is a really charming place," she said.
Smith then went to San Francisco and worked at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
"I was getting further and further away from music," she added.
Her next job was working for Kronos Quartet, a string quartet that tours internationally and plays original compositions. Smith was director of development for the quartet, doing fund raising, grant writing and event planning.
"Then I quit my job and started my own business," she said about Renditions Music Services. "I'm almost ready to celebrate my 10th anniversary."
Melissa and her husband, singer David Saslav, started Renditions Music Services in San Francisco in 1995.
Renditions provides many music-related services in the Bay area.
"The performing and the teaching are obviously the biggest ones," she said.
Other services include a research library and Choirs@Work, which coordinates and networks employee choirs in the Bay area. One of those is Oracle's Ora*Capella, founded and directed by Saslav.
Saslav, who works for the California-based software company Oracle, also has an extensive background in music. His parents are professional musicians and he regularly performs in choruses, solo recitals, operas and in collaboration with his wife.
Melissa plays for chamber operas with Goat Hall Productions in San Francisco and at other venues. She averages about 10 performances a year.
Renditions issued Melissa's two CDs. The first, "The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant," released in 2002, is a recording of a piece Melissa is very familiar with. She has been performing the composition by French composer Francis Poulenc since 1995.
"Once I learned it, I never stopped," she added.
She and her husband performed it in Havre in 1999, with David serving as narrator.
Her other CD, "Christmas on the Keys," is a recording of piano renditions of Christmas favorites.
The CDs are for sale at the Chinook Motor Inn, Creative Leisure, Hanson's Western Drug and Variety, Crazy Quilters, and the Heart of Joy Christian Bookstore.