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Conservatory alum Tim Smith returns to conduct at the 2012 Pacific Music Camp
by Steve Perdicaris

Timothy M. Smith, a graduate of the Conservatory of Music, continues to make his mark in music.  He currently serves as Music Director and Conductor of the Contra Costa Chamber Orchestra and for 22 years, was Professor of Music at California State University-East Bay in Hayward, California.  Over the past 30 years, he has guest conducted hundreds of high school and junior high school honor orchestras and bands throughout the west, and mid-west.  In 2006, Smith received the outstanding music educator award from the California Music Educators Association Bay Section.

Last summer, I invited Tim to conduct the senior high orchestra at Pacific Music Camp.  During that time, I had a chance to ask him a few questions about his illustrious career and other thoughts.

S.P. Tell me about your education at the Conservatory of Music and the impact it has had on your career. 

T.S.  I received an outstanding undergraduate music education in both horn performance and music education at the Conservatory in the mid-1970's not only from fine faculty, but also from the many talented students who were there at the time. Having been well prepared for collegiate study by strong public school music programs in Modesto, and strong private instruction on both horn and piano, I was able to meet the challenges of rigorous fundamental coursework in music academics.  This included music theory with Stan Beckworth, music history with George Nemeth and Anne Mischakoff, applied horn lessons with Dr. Nemeth and John Dressler (his sabbatical replacement during my junior year), and studies on piano (my secondary instrument). As an upperclassman, I was able to take advantage of the expertise of a wide variety of other faculty through advanced courses offered in orchestration, literature, conducting and pedagogy. As a performer, I was fortunate to be able to participate in the University Symphony Orchestra, the Chamber Orchestra, the Wind Ensemble, the Symphonic Band, and several outstanding woodwind and brass quintets.

As a high school student I successfully auditioned to become a member of the Modesto Symphony horn section and soon after arriving at Pacific, began playing with the Stockton Symphony and the Stockton Opera Orchestra. These professional playing opportunities enhanced the performing experiences I had on campus, and as a result, I was exposed to a significant amount of repertoire in several different musical genres by the time I graduated.

While it is true that I studied, practiced and worked very hard, I was also able to take advantage of many amazing faculty resources at the Conservatory. As a result, I scored very high on the GRE's, and applied for and was accepted to masters programs at several nationally recognized music schools. Upon taking the graduate assessment and placement exams at Northwestern University (where I did my masters degree in conducting and doctoral work in music education), I was one of a very small number of master and doctoral students who did not have to take any remedial coursework.  I will be forever grateful for my time at the Conservatory of Music, and the opportunities and education I received at Pacific.

I consider Dr. David Goedecke one of my most important mentors.  He was Director of Bands, Professor of Instrumental Music Education, and appointed Associate Dean soon after I arrived. From him I learned how vital it is, as a music educator, to be the finest musician possible, to be ultra-organized, and to be able to keep several plates spinning at once.  He also taught me that you can hold yourself and others to very high standards and still be a genuinely good person.

S.P. Are any of your classmates still involved in music at some level?

T.S. There were so many gifted musicians who were my peers at the Conservatory during the mid-70's.  Many have, in the ensuing years, contributed significantly to music and music education. To name just a few would leave out so many. These folks now hold positions with major symphony orchestras, military bands and professional opera and choral ensembles. They are distinguished professors, respected maestros and maestras, master music educators and respected members in their professions. Many hold leadership roles in professional organizations particularly in music education, and have positively influenced thousands and thousands of young musicians during careers that now span well over 30 years. It is this legacy that mentors like David Goedecke left for us as Conservatory students, and one that we are proud to carry forward.  I must not fail, however, to mention my wife, Kathryn (Hansen) Smith (BM, 1977, MM, 1978), who is Professor of Vocal/Choral Music at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento, and is currently serving as President of the Western Division of the American Choral Directors Association.  She has served as President of the California American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) state board, and in many other capacities on the state, division and national ADCA boards and is also a well-known and respected leader in vocal/choral music education throughout the state and beyond.  Meeting my life-partner, as well as so many other close friends and colleagues, was most certainly the greatest gift I received at Pacific.

S.P. How has music education changed over the course of your career?

T.S. It is my hope that the basic premise of music education has not changed. Teaching students a life-long love for music, a comprehensive set of fundamental technical skills through which they can express themselves artistically and emotionally, a solid command of the musical language and high level of literacy, and an understanding of what is required to make great music with others, are, in my opinion, still the cornerstones of music education.  How we accomplish these goals has changed, particularly because of the growth in technology. Frankly, I am pretty "old-school" and in many ways glad to be retired from music academia, due to the fact that technology is not my strong suit!  However, the younger generation of music educators grew up with technology, and will learn how to harness this technological power. I only hope that we can remember that technology is a tool and not a substitute for in-person music teaching, and in-person music making.

S.P. What advice would you give to current students in preparation for a music career?

T.S. Music Educators should strive to be the best musician possible. There are no truly great music educators who are not also great musicians. In addition, there is an enormous amount of knowledge you have to accumulate to be successful so take all secondary instruments, conducting, pedagogy and methods/literature classes very seriously. And, always remember, teaching, like music, is an art.

Performers should know that it is tough out there, and there are no short must work very hard and very long. There are lots of folks in the world who have remarkable technical control over their instruments but not nearly as many who also have a thorough understanding of the content of music and its context in a historical sense. It is only those that have this combination of skills that become true musical artists.

For other careers in music, the world is waiting. My son, who is a fine musician and has degrees in music, music engineering technology, computer science, and advanced study and experience in electrical engineering as well as composition, has found a career with SMULE (the Palo Alto company that creates those fun and amazing music applications for iPhones), and also has had some significant successes as a commercial composer.  Embrace the new and study hard.  The world is full of "pretenders" but those who are educated as well as gifted and talented will ultimately be recognized for this.

S.P. What problems do you see facing the arts and what can we do on a local, state, and national level to improve the situation? 

T.S. This is such a big question. To me, it comes down to this: society must value the arts. We must make sure that the art we are making and that our students are making is inspired and of the highest standard, and that we are fostering in our students and their parents a deep and life-long passion and true love of the arts either as participators and/or appreciators (consumers). A member of a school board or state or local governing body is less likely to vote to cut funding if they place the highest value on the arts. It is not a cliché but simply a fact: the arts are what make us human.

S.P. It was a pleasure having you teach at Pacific Music Camp last summer.  Tell me about the experience.

T.S. I was a camper at PMC from the late 60's through the early 70's.  Partly as a result of this amazing experience, I chose to attend the Conservatory for my undergraduate degree as did a number of my classmates. Every year during my undergraduate studies, I worked at PMC as a counselor. In the early 1980's, I taught at LeMars College in Iowa, and then Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA where I founded the instrumental music program.  It was during this time that Dr. Goedecke invited me to return as a senior staff member and guest conductor.  Eventually I took on the role of Associate Camp Director and in the summer of 1985, was Acting Camp Director, as Dr. Goedecke was on his way to another position. This was also the summer that I moved back to California after accepting the position of Director of Bands and Professor of Instrumental Music Education at CSU-Hayward.

I have so many fond memories of my time at PMC, so it was thrilling to return after a hiatus of 27 years to conduct the Senior Session Orchestra.  It was also, admittedly, a bit surreal to stay in the dorms!  It was a very special treat to be able to teach and hang out with Dr. Eric Hammer, Pacific's Director of Bands and Professor of Music Education, who I first met at Pacific Music Camp 40 years ago.  I consider him to be one of my closest friends and colleagues and I have the greatest respect for his work as a music educator, conductor and musician.  Eric and so many others at the Conservatory and on the PMC staff are carrying on the legacy left by mentors like David Goedecke. And we are all the better for it.  

Steve Perdicaris is currently in his 15th year as director of Pacific Music Camp.