According to Donald 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 conscious of the spiritual, and Smith says he garnered “satisfaction, assurance and beauty” from his involvement.
Growing up playing in the band, studying the clarinet and taking piano lessons, Smith graduated from the Eastman School of Music, where he majored in instrumental teaching. He 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.
That's not all Smith has to say about the Forbes Center. “With the parking deck at the Forbes Center, I couldn’t ask for anything better. I can get in my car at my house, and five minutes later I’m in the parking deck. A minute or two later, I’m right in the Center. I am really taking advantage of so many offerings in all of the venues here.” Fortunately, Smith has experienced “outstanding box office” service, especially when he’s trying to score particular seats in the Concert Hall.
Two seats in the terrace section are named for Smith and his late wife, Inez. Smith’s son and daughter-in-law bought the seats, and every now and then, father and son sit there. When Smith isn’t attending a performance, he is busy working out or volunteering with cancer patients. “There are so many patients who aren’t expected to live more than a few months who have been such an inspiration to me.” That from someone who most certainly could be seen as an inspiration himself.