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Kile Smith (born August 24, 1956) is an American composer of choral, vocal, orchestral, and chamber music, and many anthems, hymns, and liturgical music. His writings, mostly on composing and music, are published regularly in the Philadelphia arts and culture online magazine Broad Street Review. He was curator of the Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music at the Free Library of Philadelphia 1993–2011. He has produced, co-hosted, and written Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, a monthly program on Philadelphia's WRTI-FM, since 2002. He is the recipient of a 2018 Independence Foundation Fellowship in the Arts for his first opera, The Book of Job.
Early life and musical influences
Kile Smith was born in Cooper Hospital, Camden, New Jersey, and lived in Pennsauken until 1975, when he went to college in Philadelphia. He has lived in or near Philadelphia ever since. His parents are Leighton Edward Smith (b. 1928) and Carol Pauline (née Kile) Renne (b. 1929). His father moved out in 1970 and his parents divorced, his father remarrying. His mother married Henry L. Renne (1923–2000) in 1985. He is the third of four children: Carole Marcotte (1951–2014), Gary Smith (1953–2015), and Susan Kinkle.
He attended Collins Tract and Central Elementary schools, Pennsauken Junior High School (now Phifer Middle School), and Pennsauken High School, from where he was graduated in 1974. He and his family attended Temple Lutheran Church, Pennsauken. He credits the Lutheran liturgy and a lifetime of choral singing as influences on his composing.
Involved in amateur music-making from a young age, he sang in his church's children's and adult choirs. He sang Amahl in his church's staged production of Gian Carlo Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors when he was 13. He sang in choirs throughout junior high and high school, and sang the part of bass Olin Britt in the barbershop quartet in Meredith Willson's The Music Man, his senior class musical, in 1974. He briefly took drum lessons in 1972, and began playing bass guitar in 1973, working with a guitarist friend as a duo, playing in an Ocean City, New Jersey coffee shop that summer. He was in the New Jersey All-State Chorus for two years, Bass I in 1973 and Bass II in 1974. He sang baritone in the barbershop chorus the Pine Barons 1974–75. Involved in sports throughout his youth, he was a soccer goalkeeper in high school, and a long jumper on the track and field team, with a personal best of 20'1".
Smith credits his older sister Carole's involvement in the All-State Chorus as helping to turn him toward composition. Entranced by the Brahms Nänie in the year she sang (1970), he searched for a commercial recording and found the two-record album with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande conducted by Ernest Ansermet. He eventually listened to the largest work on the album, the Brahms German Requiem, the opening of which so transfixed him, he has related, Brahms German Requiem to make him decide at age 17 to become a composer.
Interested in faith and religion, Smith applied to Philadelphia College of Bible (now Cairn University) as a double major in Bible and music composition. He was accepted on probation (he could not yet fully read music) in 1975 and was graduated in 1980, a five-year double major leading to the B.S. in Bible and B.Mus. in Music Composition. His composition teachers were Edwin T. Childs and Chris Woods. For two years he was the music history teaching assistant to Samuel Hsu (1947–2011). In developing a class on Medieval chant, he taught himself to create neume notation by hand, which led to his interest in music copying and notation. He received the Outstanding Music Student Award each year.
He continued playing bass guitar in a student-run jazz fusion group in college for two years. He sang and played bass guitar in the touring college pop band Joy for two years, and played bass guitar and percussion occasionally in the college wind ensemble. He conducted the choir at Immanuel Baptist Church in Maple Shade, New Jersey, 1977–78.
In 1979 Smith married Jacqueline Hardman, also a student at Philadelphia College of Bible, the daughter of the Rev. Jack Hardman (1929–1987) and Dorothy Pinckney Hardman (1930–1994).
He went to Temple University in 1980, receiving the M.Mus. in Music Composition in 1983. His composition teachers were Clifford Taylor and Maurice Wright. Both Temple (2010) and Cairn (2012) honored Smith as Alumnus of the Year.
In the year after high school and before entering college, Smith was a maintenance man and night watchman at a nursing home, the Lutheran Home in Moorestown, now Lutheran Crossings. In college he worked as a parking lot attendant in Center City Philadelphia. He has also been a janitor, floor buffer, house painter, electrician's assistant, furniture stripper, cemetery groundskeeper assistant, dishwasher, maintenance / forklift operator at a chemical plant, commercial backup singer, and music copyist. He conducted the choir at Lower Merion Baptist Church, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania 1980–85, with his wife as organist.
Smith began working part-time as a music copyist at the Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music, "the world's largest circulating collection of orchestral performance sets," at the Free Library of Philadelphia in 1981, while studying for his master's degree. He was appointed full-time music copyist in 1983, a civil servant position within the City of Philadelphia, copyist supervisor in 1986, assistant curator in 1988, and curator in 1993, a position he held until retiring in 2011 to compose full-time. He is the longest-serving curator of the Collection.
He and Jack Moore began the monthly radio broadcast Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection in October 2002 on WRTI-FM, Philadelphia's classical music and jazz station. Smith produces the show and writes an online essay for each broadcast. He began substituting as a classical music host on WRTI in 2005, and in 2008 began hosting and producing a weekly American new music program, Now Is the Time. After retiring from the Fleisher Collection in 2011, Smith accepted more duties at WRTI, producing and voicing Arts Desk features, increased classical hosting duties, writing, editing, audio editing, voicing, interviewing and producing interviews, and serving 2016–17 as interim director of content. Smith left WRTI in 2017 to resume full-time composing, although continues to produce and co-host Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection.
As adjunct faculty he taught composition, advanced orchestration, and music history at Cairn University, 2010–16, and music notation at Temple University, 2012. He has taught private composition since 1993.
Smith is married to the soprano, organist, and conductor Jacqueline Smith; they live in Philadelphia. They have three daughters: Priscilla Herreid (b. 1986), an oboist, Baroque oboist, recorderist, and performer on Renaissance winds; Elena Smith (b. 1995), a cellist, Baroque cellist, and gambist; and Martina Smith (b. 1997), a French hornist. He sang and played percussion in the Medieval/Renaissance group Quidditas with his wife, daughters, and other singers and instrumentalists in the early 2000s, performing in concert a few times a year. He sings bass in the choir of Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Abington, Pa., where Jacqueline has been director of music and organist since 2000, and in two other choirs she directs, Musica Concordia and the Franklinville-Schwarzwald Männerchor in the Vereinigung Erzgebirge, a German club in Warminster, Pa.
Smith's earliest compositions, from 1974 and into college, were art songs and choral anthems. Among his earliest extant works are settings of Shelley poems (Three Songs, No. 1, 1978) and a setting of Donne's "Batter My Heart, Three-Person'd God" (from Three Songs, No. 3, 1979). At Philadelphia College of Bible, outside of class assignments, he composed for fellow students to sing in recitals, incidental music for a play, an anthem Unto the Hills for the concert choir, and a pop song for the touring college band Joy. He and a fellow student composed music for a non-required full recital in their third year.
He wrote anthems for Lower Merion Baptist Church, and continued to compose for church choirs in which he sang and for which his wife was the organist/director, at Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church, Philadelphia (1986–2000), and Holy Trinity Lutheran. At Holy Trinity he began composing liturgical music such as introits, alleluias, and other service music in addition to anthems.
He composed a Sinfonietta for orchestra in 1983, performed by the Temple University Contemporary Music Orchestra under Clifford Taylor. His 1986 Sonata for Tuba and Piano was composed for Brian Brown, and in 1988 he orchestrated it into the Concerto for Tuba and Orchestra, which Brown played with the Orchestra Society of Philadelphia under Mark Laycock that year. In 1989 he set three Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins for his wife Jacqueline Smith to sing, accompanied by Samuel Hsu, at the Hopkins Centennial Conference, St. Joseph's University, Philadelphia. In 1990 the Concerto Soloists (now the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia) premiered his Hymn and Fugue No. 1 for string orchestra under founding director Marc Mostovoy.
He composed two chamber works for Philadelphia's Davidsbund Chamber Players, Hymn and Fugue No. 2 (piano trio, 1993) and Hymn and Fugue No. 3 (piano trio with alto saxophone, 1994). The Totentanz for solo guitar was premiered in 1994 by William Ghezzi at the George Antheil Music Festival in Trenton, N.J. He composed Variations on a Theme of Schubert for solo piano in 1997, Paul S. Jones premiering it at a Cairn University concert honoring the 25th anniversary of Samuel Hsu's teaching there. Smith added a movement and orchestrated it in 1999. This version was premiered by Makiko Hirata with the Jupiter Symphony in New York City, conducted by Jens Nygaard, as part of Smith's 1999-2001 composer residency, and has since been performed by orchestras several times.
For Jupiter he also orchestrated Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins (2000) for tenor and orchestra. In 2001 Jupiter premiered The Three Graces for solo oboe, horn, cello, and strings (Gerard Reuter, Karl Kramer, Wolfram Kössel, soloists), a work of written-out jazz intended to sound like improvisation. It is inspired by his three daughters, and is based on the chord changes to the Richard Rodgers song "Wait till You See Her." Smith has used jazz in at least four other works. One is An April Breeze (2002, premiered 2003) for solo trumpet and concert band, composed for the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts under Kevin Rodgers, with soloist John Thyhssen. His 45-minute song cycle for mezzo-soprano and baritone, In This Blue Room (2015), is influenced by post-war jazz and popular song. Two works from 2018, Adieu, Adieu, commissioned by the new-music group Relâche, and The Arc in the Sky, commissioned by The Crossing, also make use of jazz.
Piffaro, the Renaissance Band commissioned Vespers (2008) from Smith for their group of seven musicians playing 27 instruments, and the new-music Philadelphia choir The Crossing. The subsequent recording on the Innova label and dozens of favorable reviews brought Smith's name to international attention.
Gramophone Magazine called it "a spectacular work." David Patrick Stearns of the Philadelphia Inquirer called it Smith's "creative breakthrough," also writing, "few such endeavors by Peteris Vasks, Giya Kancheli or Arvo Pärt have Smith's lyrical immediacy and ability to find great musical variety while maintaining an overall coherent personality... miniature Schütz-like strokes... never lapsed into potentially cheap picturesque effects... close in spirit to liturgical-minded composers who wouldn't let effects eclipse words."
Musicweb International chose Vespers as its January 2010 Recording of the Month, Robert Hugill writing that it is "totally modern, without ever being simplistic... accessible without ever talking down." Peter Burwasser, writing for Fanfare Magazine, put it on his 2009 Want List, and writing for the Philadelphia City Paper, included it on his 2009 Top Ten Classical list. After 2015 concerts by Seraphic Fire, David Fleshler wrote in the South Florida Classical Review that "the work sounds like no other music."
Burwasser, in a review of the CD for the Philadelphia City Paper, wrote, "This Vespers is almost preternaturally beautiful, presented with an apparent simplicity that reveals the timeless essence of musical expression. But it is not at all simple, as Smith subtly weaves contemporary figurations, pacing and textures into an old fabric. It is remarkable how seamless this effect is, and how utterly self-effacing is Smith's technique. A casual listener might miss the impact of Vespers, but not for long. The music seeps into the consciousness with gentle stealth and power, finally disarming any resistance... The sum of the parts is magical."
Vespers has received numerous performances by professional and university choirs, and one amateur choir. Smith has transcribed much of it for different combinations of modern and Baroque instruments, and individual movements are performed separately, including several movements Choral Arts Philadelphia, under Matthew Glandorf, commissioned and premiered in 2018, arranged for the instrumentation of the J. S. Bach Cantata No. 1, Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern.
Smith's music is modal and tonal. His voice-leading is meticulous, especially from Vespers (2008) on. Although he employs chromaticism on occasion, sometimes heavily, as in the middle movement of Where Flames a Word and in various songs, his pieces usually remain in one mode or key for extended periods. His music has always favored horizontal movement over vertical chord-building, which can lead to unexpected passing harmonies. He has often spoken of the influence of William Billings and early American shape-note and Southern Harmony composers in this respect. What Steven Ritter of Audiophile Audition wrote in his review of Vespers applies to much of Smith's music: "I'll call this music tonal with a twist; though modern, and it has some contemporary edges to it, it still feels almost uncomfortably familiar, a masterly mélange of old and new." Counterpoint of independent voices has become a greater hallmark of his style since Vespers. He stated in an interview on the composing of Canticle that text-painting is always important in his choral and vocal music. Performers and critics have noted the "vocal quality" of his music.
Smith has composed over 20 orchestral works, including a Symphony: Lumen ad revelationem (2002) premiered by the Lehigh Valley Chamber Orchestra. His cello concerto And Seeing the Multitudes (2014) was commissioned by the Helena Symphony Orchestra and premiered by them with Ovidiu Marinescu, conducted by Allan R. Scott, as part of Smith's 2014–15 residency. Shorter works include overtures for Helena (Gold and Silver, 2014), and Susquehanna Symphony Orchestra (Susquehanna, 2017). His works have been performed by the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, the Delaware, Helena, Missoula, Grand Rapids, and Jackson (Tenn.) symphonies, the Lehigh Valley Chamber Orchestra, the Ocean City Pops, and the Sofia, Soﬁa Youth, and Shumen State Philharmonics of Bulgaria.
He composed Exsultet (2007), horn and strings, for Jennifer Montone, principal horn of the Philadelphia Orchestra. The Red Book of Montserrat for strings was commissioned by the youth orchestra Philadelphia Sinfonia, and uses tunes from the 14th-century Llibre Vermell de Montserrat.
He orchestrated the solo piano (1997) Variations on a Theme of Schubert for piano with chamber orchestra (1999), and The Bremen Town Musicians, originally for violin, cello, and narrator (2008) for chamber orchestra (2016) for the English Symphony Orchestra. One of his most-performed orchestral works is Three Dances, in two versions: for chamber orchestra (1995) and string orchestra (1998, rev. 2012, 13).
Smith has composed almost three dozen chamber and solo instrumental works, including Adieu, Adieu (2018) for Relâche, The Nobility of Women (2011) for a Baroque sextet, and two sets of American Spirituals, for violin and piano (2006, composed for Philadelphia Orchestra concertmaster David Kim) and cello and piano (2008, composed for Pittsburgh Symphony principal cello Anne Martindale Williams). Red-tail and Hummingbird (2013), commissioned jointly by Orchestra 2001 and Piffaro, The Renaissance Band, exists in many versions for mixed chamber ensembles of six parts, and in a version for brass quintet commissioned by the Philadelphia Brass.
Gaudete Brass in Chicago commissioned Annunciation and Magnificat (2016) for optional narrator and brass quintet. The Three Graces (inspired by his daughters) is in two versions: orchestral, for oboe, horn, cello, and strings (2001), and for soloists plus piano and double bass (2008). Ursinus College commissioned This Broad Land and The Better Angels of Our Nature (2010), inspired by words of Abraham Lincoln, for bassoon (or soprano saxophone) and piano.
Abington Presbyterian Church (Pa.) commissioned Two Meditations on Freu dich sehr (2013) for organist Alan Morrison for the inaugural recital on their rebuilt Möller organ. The Philadelphia Chapter, American Guild of Organists commissioned Reflection (2017); David Furniss premiered it on the Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ for the 10th anniversary of its installation in Verizon Hall, the Kimmel Center, Philadelphia. It has been performed often since and is published by ECS Publishing. The original version of Variations on a Theme of Schubert (1997), for solo piano, uses the Schubert song "An mein Klavier."
Kile Smith's choral works include about two dozen concert works (both sacred and secular), and two dozen church anthems. His Vespers has received the greatest attention, with dozens of reviews of its performances and CD. It was commissioned by Piffaro, the Renaissance Band, for them and The Crossing. Premiering in 2008, its recording on the Navona label was released in 2009. Many of his works are distributed by MusicSpoke. The anthem O Come, O Come, Emmanuel is published by Concordia.
The Crossing has commissioned Smith more than any other composer; he has written, in addition to Vespers (commissioned by Piffaro), six works for them: Where Flames a Word (2009, texts of Paul Celan), The Waking Sun (2011, texts of Seneca), The Consolation of Apollo (2014, texts of Boethius and the crew of Apollo 8), May Day (2015, poem by Ryan Eckes), You Are Most Welcome (2016, text from emails by Crossing co-founder Jeffrey Dinsmore, who died in 2014), and The Arc in the Sky (2018), a concert-length work on texts by Robert Lax.
Canticle, a concert-length setting of A Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and the Bridegroom Christ by St. John of the Cross, was commissioned by Cincinnati's Vocal Arts Ensemble and premiered by them in 2016 under Craig Hella Johnson (CD scheduled for 2018 release). Agnus Dei (2015) was commissioned by the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia as a companion to the Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Great Mass in C minor. Lyric Fest and the Pennsylvania Girlchoir, under director Mark Anderson, commissioned Two Laudate Psalms (2009) for high voice, girls' choir, and piano; the Girlchoir then commissioned, under director Vincent Metallo, How Do I Love Thee (2014, text by Elizabeth Barrett Browning).
Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church and Jeffrey Brillhart commissioned the anthem Out of the Depths (2016), the Episcopal Cathedral of Boston commissioned his setting of The Chambered Nautilus (2012) with text by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., and Mass for Philadelphia was commissioned for the 2012 annual conference of the Association of Anglican Musicians. The Church of the Holy Trinity in Philadelphia, John French, organist/choirmaster, and Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Abington, Pa., Jacqueline Smith, organist/director of music, have commissioned numerous anthems and liturgical works. Smith has composed 14 hymns, many of them to texts by one of the pastors of Holy Trinity Lutheran, the Rev. Dr. Michael G. Tavella.
He has composed almost 70 songs, including two song cycles. The 17-song, 45-minute cycle for mezzo-soprano, baritone, and piano In This Blue Room (2015) sets texts of Philadelphia-area women poets inspired by the batik paintings of Laura Madeleine, commissioned and premiered by Lyric Fest, for whom he was resident composer 2014–15; Plain Truths (2011, 13) for baritone and piano or string quartet with optional chorus was commissioned by the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival. It uses texts by Newburyport authors including the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. Shorter collections of songs include Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins (1989, 2000) and Poems of Stephen Berg (2000), commissioned by Network for New Music. A Lyric Fest CD of his songs is scheduled for a 2018 release on Roven Records.
- (2018) Independence Foundation Fellowship in the Arts for the opera The Book of Job
- American Spirituals, Book One. David Kim, Paul Jones. The Lord Is My Shepherd. PSJ Music, 2006
- American Spirituals, Book Two. Anne Martindale Williams, Paul Jones. Sacred Music for Cello. PSJ Music, 2009
- The Arc in the Sky. The Crossing, 2019
- The Bremen Town Musicians. Auricolae. The Double Album. New Focus, 2009
- Canticle and Alleluia. Vocal Arts Ensemble, 2018
- Four French Carols. Westminster Brass. Christmas Celebration. Westminster Brass, 2004
- In This Blue Room, Songs of Kile Smith. Lyric Fest. Roven Records, 2018
- The Nobility of Women. Mélomanie. Excursions. Meyer Media, 2012
- Penmaen Pool, from Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Nancy Ogle, Ginger Yang Hwalek. An Evening with Gerard Manley Hopkins. Capstone, 1999
- A Song of Sonia Sanchez. Latin Fiesta. Amor a la Vida. Latin Fiesta, 2005
- The Stars Shine, from The Consolation of Apollo. The Same Stream. Same Stream, 2015
- Veni Sancte Spiritus, from Vespers. Fine Music. Navona, 2011
- Vespers. Piffaro, The Crossing. Vespers. Navona, 2009
- Where Flames a Word. Voces Musicales. MSR Classics, 2018
- Where Flames a Word. The Crossing. It Is Time. Navona, 2011
- Broad Street Review list of Authors
- WRTI, Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection
- Independence Foundation Fellowships in the Arts Past Recipients
- Ray Cooklis (2017) Movers & Makers Cincinnati "Composer Kile Smith is reshaping the choral repertoire"
- Cairn University, "Tenacious Alumni Musicians"
- Edwin T. Childs, Composer, personal website
- Greenville University, Chris Woods, Emeritus Professor of Music
- Samuel Hsu website
- Temple University, Faculty, Maurice Wright
- Temple University Alumni Gallery of Success Award Recipients
- Cairn, the magazine of Cairn University, Alumnus of the Year, July 2012
- Lower Merion Baptist Church website
- Free Library of Philadelphia, Fleisher Collection
- WRTI, Jack Moore
- WRTI, Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection
- WRTI website
- Kile Smith website, Now Is the Time, 2017
- Kile Smith website, Writings, Arts Desk features
- Priscilla Herreid personal website
- Quidditas website
- Holy Trinity Lutheran Church website
- Franklinville-Schwarzwald Männerchor website
- Mark Laycock personal website
- The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, Mission & History
- William Ghezzi personal website
- Makikio Hirata, Pianist, Repertoires, List of Concerti Performed with Orchestra (listed as "Smith, Kyle")
- Karl Kramer-Johansen, Performer (listed as "the three muses")
- David Patrick Stearns (2009) Philadelphia Inquirer, "Composers' shared idea yields disparate works"
- MusicWeb International, January 2010 Recording of the Month
- David Fleshler (2015) South Florida Classical Review, "Seraphic Fire wraps season with Kile Smith's ethereal 'Vespers'"
- Linda Marie Bell (2016), Montgomeryville Patch, "'Acoustic Magnificence' Coming to Lansdale"
- Choral Arts Philadelphia, Bach Festival of Philadelphia, 2017–2018 Concert Season
- BelCantoChorus, Kile Smith's Comments on "Canticle" (video)
- Elaine Schmidt (2017), Journal Sentinel, "Bel Canto Chorus serves feast of contemporary choral music"
- Penn Museum, Relâche Anniversary Concert I: Older Works Still New
- David Patrick Stearns (2013), Philadelphia Inquirer, "Old music meets new with mixed results"
- Philadelphia Brass, Videos
- Kile Smith website, Vespers Press
- The Crossing (choral ensemble), Commissioned world premieres
- David Patrick Stearns (2016), Philadelphia Inquirer, "The Crossing sings modern music for a dead colleague"
- Chorus America, 2016 Conference, Opening Night Concert: Vocal Arts Ensemble
- Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, Mendelssohn Club announces 2016–2016 Season
- Association of Anglican Musicians, 2012 Philadelphia Conference Book
- David Patrick Stearns (2015), Philadelphia Inquirer, "Review: Kile Smith song cycle strikes a new note"
- Newburyport Chamber Music Festival, Program Notes
- Network for New Music, Premieres Commissions/World Premieres
- Independence Foundation Fellowships in the Arts Past Recipients
- Official biography at Kile Smith website
- 2017 Kile Smith, for the Bel Canto Chorus, Milwaukee, on composing Canticle
- 2015 Kile Smith lecture at Lyric Fest on composing In This Blue Room
- 2015 film on Kile Smith residency with Lyric Fest, including musical excerpts
- 2015 interview of Kile Smith by Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia for Agnus Dei premiere
- 2014 interview of Kile Smith and Sebastian Currier by Donald Nally