W. Stephen Smith

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
W. Stephen Smith
Born William Stephen Smith
(1950-12-18) December 18, 1950 (age 67)
Jonesboro, Arkansas
Residence Evanston, Illinois
Nationality American
Alma mater Harding University (B.A.)
University of Arkansas (M.M.)
Oklahoma City University (M.P.A.)
Occupation Professor of Voice and Opera at Bienen School of Music of Northwestern University
Home town Corning, Arkansas
Spouse(s) Carol Mannen Smith
Children Emily Smith Jobe, Abby C. Smith
Parent(s) Buel and Jolene Smith
Website wstephensmith.com

William Stephen “Steve” Smith (born December 18, 1950) is an American voice teacher, author and baritone singer. He is a Professor of Voice and Opera at the Bienen School of Music of Northwestern University,[1] voice faculty for the Ryan Opera Center of Lyric Opera of Chicago[2], voice faculty emeritus of the Aspen Music Festival and School[3] and founder/director of the Naked Voice Institute.[4]

Early life[edit]

Smith was born in Jonesboro, Arkansas on December 18, 1950, the son of Buel Smith and Jolene (née Hooton).[5] He was raised in Pocahontas, Arkansas and Corning, Arkansas.[5] His father owned a nearby Ford dealership.[6]

As Smith’s father did not approve of his musical interests as a child, his first job was mowing a neighbor’s lawn every week in order to be able to afford to pay for piano lessons on his own.[5]

Education and early career[edit]

After graduating as valedictorian from Corning High School in 1968,[5] Smith attended Harding University, where he graduated with a B.A. in music in 1972.[7] Smith’s voice teacher at Harding was Erle T. Moore.[8] He continued at the University of Arkansas, studying voice with Richard Brothers and graduating with an M.M. in voice in 1975.[9]

He was then hired as a one-year sabbatical replacement choir director at Oklahoma Christian University, and remained on the faculty when a professorship was created for him the following year.[10]:7 His teaching responsibilities included voice lessons, music theory, musicianship and stage directing of student operas and musicals.[10]:7 During his first year at OC, he became interested in the pedagogy of Inez Lunsford Silberg, who taught voice at the nearby Oklahoma City University. Smith enrolled in OKCU’s M.P.A. program in opera performance, taking classes while continuing to serve on the faculty of OC, and graduating in 1981.[5] He remained on the faculty of OC until 1987, when he was hired as the chair of the voice department of St. Louis Conservatory,[11] a position he held until that institution closed in 1990.[12]


Smith was appointed to the faculty of Moores School of Music of the University of Houston in 1990. In 1991, he began instructing apprentice artists of the Houston Grand Opera Studio. In 1996, he joined the faculty of the Aspen Music Festival and School. In 1998, he was appointed to the faculty of The Juilliard School. He resigned from the University of Houston but retained his position with Houston Grand Opera, commuting weekly between New York and Houston until he resigned from Houston Grand Opera in 2003.[5]

In 2011, Smith joined the faculty of Northwestern University.[13][14] Subsequent to his appointment, he founded the Naked Voice Institute, a summer program of Northwestern University that instructs students in his method of pedagogy.[15]

Prominent students Smith has instructed include Christine Brewer,[10]:39 Joyce DiDonato,[16] Rod Gilfry,[8] Brian Mulligan[17] and Eric Owens.[16]


Since the early 19th century, vocal pedagogy has made use of the vocalise as a means to present to the student specific technical challenges with an aim to solving those challenges in order to make a sound of ever increasing quality and consistency.[18]

Smith’s pedagogy differs from this tradition in that he has developed a series of six vocalises, which he trains in sequence,[10]:46 that he has designed to first isolate two specific activities that produce vocal sound: phonation, as in conversational speech, and breath release, as in a voiced sigh.[10]:45 In isolation, these activities do not necessarily produce a pleasing or complete sound.[10]:50 Subsequent vocalises in Smith’s progression seek to achieve balance between these two forces.[10]:46

Smith‘s first vocalise, a slow, sostenuto declamation of the phrase [niːneːnɑːnoːnuː] on a single pitch,[10]:51 isolates intention to speak as the primary force of tone generation.[10]:52

His second vocalise, an ascending glissando followed by a descent from scale degree five to scale degree one in major,[10]:75 isolates the release of breath (as in Bernoulli's Principle) as the primary force of tone generation.[10]:67

His third vocalise is a legato ascending and descending arpeggiation of a major triad,[10]:81 utilizing the same phonemes as the first vocalise.[10]:81

His fourth vocalise trains the balanced onset of phonation through the performance of a sequence of detached tones on [ɑ].[10]:86

His fifth vocalise trains continuous breath release through slow, followed by rapid, arpeggiation of the interval of a perfect fourth on [ɑː].[10]:94

His sixth vocalise is a swift ascending major scale encompassing the range of a perfect eleventh, followed by a descending arpeggio outlining a dominant seventh chord before returning to the tonic, on [eː] for the first four tones, [ɑː] on tones five through eight and [oː] for the remainder of the vocalise,[10]:98 to promote flexibility and range extension.[10]:99


Personal life[edit]

Smith is married to the former Carol Christine Mannen,[5] and has two daughters, pastry chef[22] Emily Smith Jobe[5] and singer/actress[23] Abby C. Smith.[5]


  1. ^ "Faculty Profile: W. Stephen Smith". Northwestern Bienen School of Music. Retrieved 2016-05-05.
  2. ^ "Ryan Opera Center: Faculty". Lyric Opera of Chicago. Retrieved 2016-05-05.
  3. ^ "Artist-Faculty: W. Stephen Smith". Aspen Music Festival and School. Retrieved 2017-10-08.
  4. ^ "Summer Session: Institutes, Master Classes and Symposia: Voice Institute". Northwestern Bienen School of Music. Retrieved 2016-05-05.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Martin, Fred (2005-06-30). "This Is Our Mr. Smith". Clay County Courier. Corning, Arkansas.
  6. ^ "Obituary: Buel Smith". The Daily Citizen. Searcy, Arkansas. 2013-02-01. Retrieved 2016-05-05. (Subscription required (help)).
  7. ^ a b Marcussen, Jennifer L. (Spring 2006). "Finding One's True Voice: Juilliard's W. Stephen Smith Accompanies His Students on a Journey of Self-Discovery". Harding. Vol. 14 no. 2. Searcy, Arkansas: Harding University.
  8. ^ a b c "W. Stephen Smith: Biography". W. Stephen Smith. Retrieved 2016-05-07.
  9. ^ "Smith to Receive Honorary Degree for Revolutionary Voice Teaching". Clay County Courier. Corning, Arkansas. 2012-11-29.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Smith, W. Stephen; Chipman, Michael (2007). The Naked Voice: A Wholistic Approach to Singing. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195300505.
  11. ^ "Professor Takes Post". The Oklahoman. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 1987-06-12. Retrieved 2016-05-08.
  12. ^ "About the Community Music School". Webster University. Retrieved 2016-05-07.
  13. ^ Friedlander, Claudia. "Congratulations, Steve!". The Liberated Voice. Retrieved 2016-06-16.
  14. ^ "W. Stephen Smith Joins Faculty of Bienen School of Music". Northwestern Bienen School of Music. Retrieved 2016-06-16.
  15. ^ Roberts, Gene B. "Gene B. Roberts". Gene B. Roberts. Retrieved 2016-06-16.
  16. ^ a b "Studio Artists & Faculty". Houston Grand Opera. Retrieved 2016-06-16.
  17. ^ Burnett, William. "Rising Stars: An Interview with Brian Mulligan". Opera Warhorses. Retrieved 2016-06-16.
  18. ^ Jander, Owen. "Vocalise". In Deane L. Root. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved July 16, 2016. (subscription required)
  19. ^ "Distinguished Alumni Academy 1999". Fulbright College of Arts & Sciences. Archived from the original on 2010-06-09. Retrieved 2016-05-08.
  20. ^ "Harding, Smith to Receive Honorary Degrees at University of Arkansas Fall Commencement". University of Arkansas News. 2012-11-05. Retrieved 2016-05-05.
  21. ^ "Faculty" (pdf). Fanfare. No. 51. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University. p. 16. Retrieved 2016-05-08.
  22. ^ "Sweet Treats by Emily". Facebook. Retrieved 2016-06-16.
  23. ^ "Abby C. Smith". Abby C. Smith. Retrieved 2016-06-16.

External links[edit]