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According to Smith, it all started at the age of eight in Buffalo, New York, where he was born and grew up “teething with a mouthpiece.” His father, whom Smith says was “a sterling example of musicianship and discipline,” was bandmaster of the Salvation Army Band. “I’m very much indebted to him [my father] and the Salvation Army for spiritual and musical heritage,” recounts Smith. Conducting church choirs most of his life also made him conscience of the spiritual, and Smith says he garnered “satisfaction, assurance and beauty” from his involvement.
Smith grew up playing in the band, studying the clarinet and taking piano lessons. He graduated from the Eastman School of Music, where he majored in instrumental teaching. Smith landed his first job organizing the high school band in New Bern, North Carolina; six years later his interests changed, and he had “both feet in choral music from there on out.” Twenty-four years later, Smith moved to Portsmouth, Virginia, where he did all of the choral work at Frederick College (now Tidewater Community College); he and his wife lived in Portsmouth until his retirement.
Following retirement came a move to Harrisonburg, where Smith continued teaching music as an adjunct faculty in the music department at JMU. Smith considers JMU’s music department “Virginia’s finest” with regards to faculty and students. He adds that the Forbes Center will continue to attract the most talented.