Stuart Saunders Smith

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Stuart Saunders Smith in 2008

Stuart Saunders Smith (born 1948) is an American composer and percussionist.


Stuart Saunders Smith was born in Portland Maine, and began his percussion and composition studies at the age of six with Charles Newcomb. He studied harmony, counterpoint, and arranging at the Berklee School of Music in 1966, and continued his percussion and composition studies at the Hartt College of Music (1967–1972) and the University of Illinois at Urbana (1973–1977). He currently resides in the state of Vermont with his wife Sylvia.


In nearly fifty years of composing music, Stuart Saunders Smith has amassed a body of well over 100 works that have consistently defied the status quo. His compositional aesthetics are broad and somewhat different in every piece - many compositions feature wholly unique notational systems that the composer himself has invented. In categorizing Smith's work, one finds four primary areas of focus: music of extreme rhythmic and melodic intricacy; musical mobiles with instrumental parts that freely interact; text-based compositions; trans-media systems for any kind of performing artist(s). At the core of each of these styles, there is a focus on language - body language, melody, and speech - which Smith uses as his primary tool for contemplating a deeper question: how do we perceive and interact with the sounds we hear around us? (Burke)

Stuart Saunders Smith's percussion-theater music forms the core of that literature with such pieces as Poems I II III, ...And Points North, Tunnels, Clay Singing and twenty-six compositions of that genre (Welsh).

Stuart Saunders Smith is widely recorded with compositions on such labels as New World Records, Ravello Records, Centaur, Innova, 11 West Records, O.O. Discs, Equilibrium, GAC, Soundset Recordings, and Chen Li.

In addition, anthologies of new music have included his theater music, and music of rhythmic intricacy: Here and There, MacMillan Publishing, NYC; Return and Recall, Assembling Press, NYC; Faces, ASUC, NYC; and Transitions and Leaps, Mark Batty Publications, NYC. Articles on his music have been published regularly throughout the years in such journals as: Perspectives of New Music, Percussive Notes, Interface, and ex tempore.


Smith is the author of several articles on his music and others. These fifteen writings are used in some percussion literature courses as required readings. He is the author of two books: Pathways through Twentieth Century Music, an anthology, Prentice-Hall, co-edited with Dr. Thomas DeLio; Words and Spaces, an anthology, University Publishing, co-authored with Dr. Thomas DeLio. In addition, he is currently writing Composing, Thoughts, a book of experimental writings about aesthetics, language, composition, listening, and religion. Part I of this book was published in The Modern Percussion Revolution: Journeys of the Progressive Artist, edited by Kevin Lewis and Gustavo Aguilar (Routledge, 2014).

Stuart Saunders Smith's service works on the behalf of music includes organizing hundreds of concerts of new music, functioning as a lobbyist for the arts for the American Society of University Composers during the Reagan presidency, and as Executive Editor of Percussive Notes, Research Edition from 1982–1984.


His awards and honors include three UMBC Research Grants, The Hartt College Distinguished Alumni Award, East/West Artist Award, three Maryland State Artists Fellowships, the National Endowment for the Arts Composer's Fellowship, Percussive Arts Society Service Award and the Atlantic Center's Master Artist Award.


When Stuart Saunders Smith chose the title "Links" for his ongoing series of compositions for vibraphone, he provided us with the most suggestive mode of biographical entry and subsequent inquiry, for his links are not only intra- and inter-compositional, but between and among his vocations as composer, performer, teacher, writer, anthologist, editor, entrepreneur, philomath, and musical activist.

When as a young man from Maine he ventured out into our hypercompartmentalized, ultrapluristic compositional society, he was disposed to be no one's myrmidon, and so his music has displayed no more the explicit influences of the succession of strong-willed composition teachers with whom he studied and from whom he surely learned than that of jazz which he professes to be (or, at least, to have been) his primary musical influence. For he has forged a personalized seamless musical compound, a vast collection of awarenesses fused into a unified, single, and singular vision in which the individual sources retain little of their literal characteristics. (Milton Babbitt - quoted in Welsh, "The Music of Stuart Saunders Smith")

Stuart Saunders Smith has done very important and unique work in the fields of open-form composition and jazz. He comes to this approach naturally, for two reasons: first, as a percussionist he is comfortable with notation which diverges from the traditional mainstream in a number of ways; and second, as a jazz performer he is at home with improvisation. There is even a third reason, perhaps somewhat less obvious than these: because poetic consciousness is so fundamental to Smith, his musical thinking often results in compositions that seem to transcend music itself. This leads him to a view of artistic composition which is not tied either to ratiocination or to expression. It is not that his art is lacking in logic or in expressive effect but rather that its center of gravity is elsewhere. (Ben Johnston - quoted in Welsh, "The Music of Stuart Saunders Smith")



  • Poems I, II, III for five brake drums and narrator
  • One for Syl for solo vibraphone


  • One for Two for alto saxophone and organ
  • A Gift for Bessie for violin, piano, bassoon, and percussion


  • Here and There for shortwave radio, piano interior (percussion) and any melody instrument or voice
  • Legacy Variations No. 1 for any three sustaining melody instruments
  • Legacy Variations No. 99 for any three sustaining melody instruments
  • Three for Two for violin and viola
  • Two for Four for percussion quartet (orchestra bells, vibraphone, cymbal, large and medium gong, xylophone, marimba, timpani, temple blocks, and various small percussion instruments).


  • Two Makes Three for organ and two percussion


  • Faces for oboe and clarinet
  • Gifts for keyboard and any two melody instruments
  • Links for solo vibraphone


  • Links no. 2 for solo vibraphone
  • Links no. 3 for solo vibraphone


  • Return and Recall / Initiatives and Reactions: Studies in the Concept of Group Composition performance systems for actors, dancers, musicians, mimes, etc.


  • Pinetop for solo piano


  • Flight for flute and piano


  • Blue for trumpet, drum set and double bass


  • Notebook for any instruments in any combination
  • Notebook, Part II for one or two pianos (may be played with *Notebook)


  • Songs I-IX for percussionist-actor (small percussion instruments and various household items from kitchen)


  • Tunnels a solo music-text-theater composition for keyboard, string, or multiple percussion
  • Links No. 4 (Monk) for solo vibraphone


  • Blue Too for solo drum set
  • By Language Embellished: I percussion / theater opera for speaking voice


  • Aussie Blue for solo piano
  • In Bingham for solo speaker/narrator


  • Links No. 5 (Sitting on the Edge of Nothing) for solo vibraphone with offstage orchestra bells and chimes


  • The Noble Snare for solo snare drum


  • Links No. 6 (Song Interiors) for vibraphone and piano
  • Links No. 7 (New England Night Weave) for solo vibraphone


  • ...And Points North a music-theater work for solo percussionist/narrator (wood block, small Peking opera gong, Tibetan cymbal, glass wind chimes, owl hooter, hawk screamer, pod rattles, Audubon bird call, "found" instruments from the city and the woods)
  • Transitions and Leaps for two or more performers performing any sounds/actions


  • "as if time would heal by its passing for solo marimba
  • Family Portraits: Sylvia (wife) for solo piano
  • Family Portraits: Ivy (grandmother) for solo piano
  • Family Portraits: Earle (father) for solo piano
  • Hawk for solo oboe
  • In Common for flute and vibraphone
  • Links No. 8 (Confessions-Witness to 48 Things) for vibraphone with flute
  • Nightshade for violin or medium voice and two percussionists, each playing orchestra bells (glockenspiel), tam-tam or gong, two cymbals, two triangles


  • Good Night for solo marimba
  • Links No. 9 (Mosque) for solo vibraphone
  • Meetings for flute, vibraphone and piano


  • Each Moment and Ending for keyboard percussion quintet
  • Part for flute, piano, and cello
  • Thaw for solo orchestra bells (glockenspiel)
  • Links No. 10 (Who Are We? Where Are We?) for solo vibraphone


  • Family Portraits: Brenda (first cousin) for solo piano
  • Links No. 11 (Regions I-XXI) for three vibraphones
  • Wind in the Channel for solo tenor recorder


  • Family Portraits: Delbert (great-grandfather) for percussionist/narrator (playing woodblock, logs, and newspaper)
  • Strays for xylophone and tenor recorder or flute


  • Family Portraits: Cubba (grandfather) for trumpet, flute, and five percussion (tom-toms and triangles)
  • Family Portraits: Mom and Dad Together for solo double bass
  • Polka in Treblinka for percussion trio (bass drum, xylophone, snare drum and high hat)
  • Said, Nearly for solo cello


  • Family Portrait: Self (in 14 stations) for solo piano
  • The Night is Never Long for piccolo and xylophone


  • Closing for solo guitar
  • Fences in Three Tragedies for solo piano
  • When Music is Missing, Music Sings for two percussionists playing five "found" instruments each


  • All That is Left orchestra bells (glockenspiel) duet
  • And Sometimes the Ears for solo tenor steel drum
  • Even Song for solo orchestra bells (glockenspiel)
  • Leaving for solo marimba
  • The Xylophone Poems solo for actor/singer/xylophonist (revised 2017)


  • Books of Flutes for solo flute
  • Bones for percussion, piano, and 3 or 4 melody instruments
  • Endless for two flutes and two vibraphones
  • The Geography of Streams for percussion trio (xylophone solo with two sets of orchestra bells, two bass drums, claves, and woodblocks)
  • Thinking About Anne Sexton duo for vibraphone and speaking voice


  • Breath for mezzo-soprano and orchestra bells (glockenspiel)
  • Family Portraits: Ligeia (daughter) for soprano voice and piano
  • Light A Dew for solo double bass
  • Minor for solo violin


  • Asleep in Thorns for guitar and flute
  • Brush for solo drum set
  • Dad's Time Had Come for solo xylophone
  • Dead Reckoning for tenor recorder trio
  • Things That Grow Smaller for flute, clarinet, bassoon, piano, and percussion
  • Two Lights for solo drum set


  • Family Portraits: Embden Pond for solo alto flute with two vibraphones
  • Willow for solo cello
  • Wounded an antiphonal composition for 3 or 4 xylophones


  • Hearts for solo violin
  • Ground for solo orchestra bells (glockenspiel)
  • Plenty thirty-four movements for solo vibraphone


  • Clay Singing for solo percussion with spoken text
  • Family Portraits: Erika (daughter) for vibraphone and violin
  • In Hours Like These for soprano voice and orchestra bells (glockenspiel)
  • A River, Rose for violin and vibraphone
  • When The Body Betrays for tenor voice and double seconds steel drums
  • Women in Meeting flute duet


  • The Authors for solo marimba with spoken text
  • Big Falls, Little Falls' for percussion quartet and off-stage percussion ensemble (4)
  • Castine for marimba with offstage voice
  • Magdalene for soprano saxophone and two percussion
  • Over for solo orchestra bells (glockenspiel)
  • Rose for flute with spoken text and movement
  • A Vietnam Memorial opera for speaking voice and vibraphone


  • Among Us for solo piano
  • Light for two voices
  • Light in Each One for solo alto flute
  • The Lines of Ageing for solo vibraphone
  • The Narrow Path trio for two vibraphones and orchestra bells (glockenspiel)
  • Quilt for vibraphone and orchestra bells
  • Seven Seasons for contralto voice and vibraphone
  • Angels for percussion trio, three triangles each
  • as the days get shorter for solo bass clarinet (revised 2018)


  • Mornings for solo vibraphone
  • Apart for 2 orchestra bells and vibraphone
  • The Narrow Path for 2 vibraphones and orchestra bells
  • Family Portraits: Justin for vibraphone/voice
  • Shine for piccolo and orchestra bells


  • The Home of the Brave for percussionist/actor performing on a 2X4, 3 bottles, and 5 metal objects
  • To Freshen the Moment for cello and vibraphone
  • Far Away for solo chimes
  • Wait for solo marimba
  • GodSongs for actor singer and orchestra bells (one player) (revised 2018)


  • Time Comes Full Circle for cello and violin
  • Thicket for orchestra bells or piano
  • All Too Human for soprano and clarinet
  • Winter, Knee Deep for flute/theater
  • They Looked Like Strangers for solo vibraphone
  • Winter Songs for violin/theater


  • Three Winter Carols for orchestra bells/voice
  • Winter for any winds, strings, keyboard, mallet percussion
  • New England for vibraphone


  • Palm Sunday for piano
  • A Liturgy of the Hours for flute
  • Our Father for soprano
  • Heaven and Earth for organ
  • Five Books for orchestra bells


  • Blessings for soprano and clarinet
  • A Good Friday for clarinet
  • By Hand for bongos
  • The Lilies of the Field for vibraphone and female voice
  • Across: Lines for orchestra bells/xylophone/vibraphone/marimba/chimes/voice, one player
  • My Friend Gita Said: for marimba/voice
  • Lyric for percussion theater
  • The Shapes Beneath the Ground for marimba


  • Crystal Night for violin and percussion quartet
  • Memory for any soloist
  • Lazarus for piano or vibraphone/actor/singer
  • Past Regrets for double bass/singer/actor or cello
  • Lady Slippers for harp, viola, alto flute
  • Queen Anne's Lace for vibraphone
  • The Deep for vibraphone


  • Re:Verse trans-media work for any two performance artists
  • Wellspring for orchestra bells
  • Echo for 1-8 singers
  • Evening Primrose for vibraphone solo with two drumsets
  • Commune, vibraphone concerto with small chamber ensemble
  • Meadow Sweet for marimba and clarinet
  • Here's the Sun for cello solo


  • Inner Light for solo violin
  • Halo for solo vibraphone
  • The Circle of Light for flute solo and eight luminists/actors
  • Family Portraits: Our Home for soprano voice and vibraphone
  • Easter in Bingham for alto saxophone and actor/vibraphone
  • Milk and Honey for vibraphone and harp
  • Alone for solo vibraphone
  • Men's Culture for soprano saxophone and xylophone, two actors
  • My Romance for solo orchestra bells or vibraphone or piano
  • Alone in a Room for solo orchestra bells and percussion quartet (triangles)


  • Emily for jazz/electric guitar and piano
  • Mercy for large percussion orchestra
  • Dignity for soprano voice, vibraphone, and actor
  • History for marimba, vibraphone, and piano
  • When We Were Giants for guitar (2014/2017)
  • The Untold Range for 3-5 percussionists, chimes, and pre-recorded environmental sounds
  • Lace for orchestra bells duet and soprano


  • as the days get shorter for solo bass clarinet
  • Envelope Poems for vibraphonist / vocalist and offstage melody instrument
  • Winter Taps for 2 actors and vibraphone duet
  • Lace for orchestra bells duet and soprano
  • Honesty for flute and vibraphone
  • Family Portraits: Harriet for vibraphone
  • Family Portraits: Harpreet for violin and vibraphone
  • Holy Week for vibraphone
  • With Much Compassion: A Better Angel for vibraphone
  • My Better Angel for vibraphone


  • Smith, Stuart Saunders. Twentieth Century Scores. Prentice-Hall.
  • Smith, Stuart Saunders, and Thomas DeLio (1989). Words and Spaces: An Anthology of Twentieth Century Musical Experiments in Language and Sonic Environments. University Press of America. ISBN 0-8191-7425-4. ISBN 978-0-8191-7425-3.


  • Wind in the Channel, O.O. Disc (Out of Print)
    • 1. Hawk (1991), solo oboe
    • 2. Family Portraits: Brenda (1994), solo piano
    • 3. California Driving (1995), solo voice
    • Return and Recall (1976)
    • 4. Notebook (1980), 2-piano version
    • 5. Wind in the Channel (1994), tenor recorder/voice/percussion
    • 6. Gifts (1974), flute, vibraphone, piano
    • 7. Pinetop (1976-1977), solo piano
    • 8. In Bingham (1985), solo voice
    • 9. Aussie Blue (1985), solo piano
  • Music/Theater, Centaur (CRC 2633)
    • 1. By Language Embellished: I (1983-1984), solo voice/percussion
  • The Year Begins to Be Ripe, 11 West Records/Smith Publications
    • 1. Poems I, II, III (1970), 5 brake drums, narrator
    • 2. In Hours Like These (2005), soprano, orchestra bells
    • 3. Family Portraits: Delbert (1994), percussion/voice
    • 4. Xylophone Poems No. 1: Went Forth (1999), xylophone/voice
    • 5. Thinking About Anne Sexton, vibraphone (2000), narrator
  • The Noble Snare, 11 West Records/Smith Publications
    • 1. The Noble Snare (1988), solo snare drum
  • Breath, 11 West Records/Smith Publications
    • 1. Each Moment An Ending (1993), marimba, xylophone, vibraphone, orchestra bells, chimes
    • 2. Blue Too (1981-1983), solo drumset
    • 3. ...And Points North (1990), percussion/voice
    • 4. Links No. 11 (1994), 3 vibraphones
    • 5. Breath (2001), mezzo-soprano, orchestra bells
    • 6. Polka in Treblinka (1996), xylophone, snare drum, high-hat, bass drum
    • 7. Thaw (1993), orchestra bells
    • 8. Family Portraits: Cubba (1996), trumpet, percussion, flute
  • Withered Leaves - New Birth, Disques Christal (France)
    • 1. Links (1974), vibraphone
    • 2. Links No. 2 (1975), vibraphone
    • 3. Links No. 3 (1975), vibraphone
  • In Common, Equilibrium
    • 1. In Common (1991), flute, vibraphone
  • Book of Horizons, New World Records
    • 1. Fences, In Three Tragedies (1998), solo piano
  • When Still, Soundset Recordings
    • 1. Links No. 2 (1975), vibraphone
    • 2. The Starving Month (2012), vibraphone
  • McCormick Percussion Group, Ravello Records
    • 1. Nightshade (1991), violin, 2 percussion
  • Trio Spectra, GAC (Sweden)
    • 1. Polka in Treblinka (1996), xylophone, snare drum, high-hat, bass drum
  • At Sixty (Selections), 11 West Records/Smith Publications
    • CD#1
      • 1. Women in Meeting (2005), flute duo
      • 2. Polka in Treblinka (1996), xylophone, snare drum, high-hat, bass drum
      • 3. Over (2006), orchestra bells
      • 4. Wounded (2003), xylophone
      • 5. Magdalene (2006), soprano sax, 2 percussion
      • 6. Notebook (1980), any instruments
    • CD#2
      • 1. In Bingham (1985), solo voice
      • 2. Rose (2006), flute/dancer/actor
      • 3. Family Portraits: Embden Pond (2003), alto flute, 2 vibraphones
      • 4. A River, Rose (2005), violin, vibraphone
      • 5. Hearts (2004), violin
      • 6. Good Night (1992), marimba/voice
  • Books of Flutes, 11 West Records/Smith Publications
    • 1. Books of Flutes (2000), solo flute
    • 2. Legacy Variations No. 1 (1972), any three melody instruments
    • 3. Legacy Variations No. 99 (1972), any three melody instruments
    • 4. Family Portraits: Embden Pond (2003), alto flute, 2 vibraphones
  • Crux, Chen Li Music
    • 1. Notebook (1980), any instruments
    • 2. Family Portraits: Ivy, Earle, Sylvia (1991), solo piano
    • 3. Here and There (1972), short-wave radio, piano interior, any melody instruments
    • 4. Strays (1995), tenor recorder and xylophone
  • Strange Paths, Innova
    • 1. They Looked Like Strangers (2010), vibraphone
  • Music for Keyboard Percussions, Ravello
    • 1. Apart (2008), 2 orchestra bells, vibraphone
  • The Isle is Full of Noises, Centaur (CRC 3091)
    • 1. Family Portraits: Embden Pond (2003), alto flute, 2 vibraphones
  • The Links Series of Vibraphone Essays, New World Records
    • The Links Series
      • Links-Links 11, vibraphone
  • A River Rose, New World Records
    • 1. Hearts (2004), violin
    • 2. Three for Two (1972), violin and viola
    • 3. A Gift for Bessie (1971), violin, piano, bassoon, percussion
    • 4. Minor (2001), violin
    • 5. A River Rose (2005), violin, vibraphone
    • 6. I've Been Here Before (2009), violin and piano
  • Hawk - The Saxophone Music of Stuart Saunders Smith, Chen Li Music
    • 1. Notebook (1980), any instruments
    • 2. Magdalene (2006), soprano sax and 2 percussion
    • 3. Husbands and Wives (2008), alto sax duet
    • 4. Hawk (2007), soprano sax solo
    • 5. One for Two (1971), alto sax and organ
  • Plot: Music for Unspecified Instrumentation, Ravello Records
    • 1. Bones (2000), for any musicians and piano
    • 2. Winter (2010-2011), any instruments and voices
  • Full Circle - NOISE Plays the Music of Stuart Saunders Smith, Centaur Records
    • 1. Flight (1978), for flute and piano
    • 2. Notebook (1980), any instruments
    • 3. Time Comes Full Circle (2010), for violin and cello
    • 4. Asleep in Thorns (2002), for flute and guitar
    • 5. Women in Meeting (2005), for two flutes
  • Pluralities, Chen Li Music
    • 1. Lazarus, for piano and voice


External links[edit]