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Monday, March 18,2013

Beyond the Big Band

Director John Dale Smith announces his retirement

by Tracy Key

Friday, July 15 — After 10 years of
leading, organizing and playing with the Lansing Symphony Big Band, director
John Dale Smith announced his retirement Tuesday. “I loved being a part of the Lansing Symphony
Big Band, but I have a whole lot of other activities going on in my life,” he
said, explaining why he decided to step down.


From memory, he
recited a lengthy list of upcoming concerts, musicals and other plans that will
require his time and attention. “I did it for 10 years, and I loved it, but
there’s a lot of work that goes into leading that group, and I decided now is a
good time to leave.”


Smith filled a number
of roles in addition to conducting the band, and had a wide array of responsibilities.
“It’s not a matter of having a conductor walk around on stage and control the
beat,” Smith explained. “There’s a lot of other work involved, and often I
chose to do it myself because then I knew it was done the way I wanted it to be
done.”


Some of his jobs included
the obvious tasks, like choosing music for concerts, booking all of the
musicians for each performance and scheduling events. But there was also a lot
of legwork involved, such as getting music sheets from the library to musicians,
setting up chairs and risers, ensuring there was enough room on stage for all
of the instruments, tuning the piano, testing the microphones and more.


“Ten years ago the
symphony decided to have the Lansing Symphony Big Band created, and I don’t
think there’s any other symphony orchestra in the country that has a big band
as a part of it,” he said. “We did something very unique when they allowed us
to create this band, and here we are 10 years later, and it’s still successful.”


During his decade as
director, Smith took part in many exciting and rewarding performances with the
Big Band, including two formal concerts a year, participating several times in
the Old Town Jazz Fest, performing for the grand opening of Macy’s in the
Meridian Mall, playing in the sesquicentennial celebration on the steps of the
capitol building and even hosting musical workshops for students from East
Lansing and Mason high schools.


“It’s great to put
together a band, make that great music and see the reaction of people
how
much they loved seeing the Big Band play,” Smith reflected. But despite all of
the memories and accomplishments, he decided it was time to move on and focus
on different projects.


Smith already has
ambitious arrangements for his post-Big Band life. He has two musical
productions planned
: “A Christmas Carol” in December, and another
one for the spring. He will also be working more with the Plymouth
Congregational Church on various musicals and events, and he wants to help his
wife, a professor at Lansing Community College, with the music scene class she
teaches.


Although word has not
yet spread to everyone about his retirement, those who do know have been
supportive, Smith said. “They’re all very sad to see me go, but they understand
how busy I am and wish me luck. Chances our paths will be crossing again
because I’ll hire them in other capacities.”

A selection
committee is being formed to find Smith’s replacement.
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