Upcoming Performances

April 26
8:00 pm Eastern

Collaborative Organist, ASU University Singers, Rosen Concert Hall, Appalachian State University

April 27
3:00 pm Eastern

Guest recitalist, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Kingsport, Tenn.

May 5
4:00 pm Central

Guest recitalist, St. Paul's Cathedral, Des Moines, Iowa

July 18
10:00 am Eastern

Collaborative Organist, Organ/Brass concert, William Adam International Trumpet Festival, Rosen Concert Hall, Appalachian State University

August 25
3:00 pm Eastern

Guest recitalist, Church of the Savior, Newland, N.C.

September 17
8:00 pm Eastern

Faculty recital, Rosen Concert Hall, Appalachian State University

December 13
12:15 pm Eastern

Music at Midday, National City Christian Church, Washington, D.C.

June 21-26, 2020
Worship Organist, Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts, Lake Junaluska, N.C.

« Making Music City Mixture : Part IV | Main | Making Music City Mixture : Part III »

H. Max Smith (1931-2012)

This morning, July 14, 2012, my undergraduate organ professor was given one of the finest liturgical send-offs I have ever seen. It was a 90-minute service at St. Mary of the Hills, Blowing Rock, NC, loaded with wonderful music and attended by many wonderful friends and colleagues. It was my profound honor to have been asked to deliver the eulogy, reproduced here:


Dr. Smith to many. Uncle Max to many. Daddy Max to me and a few others. And just plain Max everywhere else. The very sound of that name -- MAX -- brings wonderful memories to many minds. And as I’ve travelled the country, I’ve marveled at all the people who knew and admired him over the years. Eyes light up everywhere when anyone mentions him and it is my honor and privilege to have been asked to share a few of my thoughts with you today.

Remember Max’s singing? Enough said there.

Remember what Max wore to class? It was always a three-piece suit, even if he were wearing hiking boots in winter. And he wore that suit even while grading papers at home at the end of the day. However, if he had lessons and no classes, he wore a guayabera to teach.

Remember those long brown cigarettes he used to smoke? Remember the days of smoking inside university buildings?

Max did a lot of good in the world. His house was a safe house for people dealing with addictive friends, troubled families, identity crises, or Mama. His office was a safe house for anyone in need of moral support or research assistance. And his heart was a safe house. Max respected boundaries of people in pain, and he respected the authority of someone a person in pain should really have been talking to. He knew where the boundaries were for saving face, and he was unimpeachable.

You didn’t have to be a student for Max to reach out to you, but students received priority. Max spent a lot of time promoting students in their budding careers, including me. He must have lost a lot of music over the years, forgetting whom he had lent it to. He gave lots of scores, books, and money to the music library over the years, for students to use. And he generously disseminated many of his scores and books to former students in retirement, some of which I am the grateful recipient. He consulted on about 100 pipe organs in the region, including virtually all the pipe organs in Watauga County. While perhaps his final legacy will be the gamelan just now being delivered to the School of Music, his greatest legacy will be Pablo. Everyone was enriched by Max’s presence among us.

I’ve heard some of the horror stories about his days as chair of the music department. Max was a peaceful man, but he was forthright in waging war as a necessary part of life. He did all that so calmly. It was all in stride and usually creative. A former student once regaled a group of us about a dedicatory recital Max played. Max had to hand-register everything because the combination system wasn’t working. On a brand new organ! Max was furious, and he made a show of changing registrations by hand, stopping the music, making the changes stop by stop with sharp gestures, and carrying on in the music. Then at the reception, he greeted everyone with, “Thanks so much for coming. I’m sorry the combination system wasn’t working.” “Thanks so much for coming. I’m sorry the combination system wasn’t working.” “Thanks so much for coming. I’m sorry the combination system wasn’t working.” All this, of course, in the presence of the organ builder.

I have my day job because of Max getting in someone’s face. When a one-year vacancy opened up at ASU in 2004, then-Dean Harbinson visited with Max to discuss a recommendation for a replacement. Max told me later, “I waggled my finger in Bill’s face and told him he was going to call Joby Bell!”

There are plenty more stories among us, many of which shouldn’t be told in this room.

Max’s colleagues will agree what a colleague he was. The Mountain House will agree what a good customer he was. The housing and car sales markets will miss his business. The community will agree what an interesting and affable fellow he was. But we students came away the most enriched of all. Every time I introduce a student to a colleague at a convention, I think of Max doing the same for me. Every time I put on a tie to go teach, I think of Max doing the same. Every time I hear of a student getting excited about the organ or a new research topic, I think of Max’s encouragement. Every time I welcome a stranger to spend some time playing an organ they haven’t played, I think of Max. Every time I say, “Thank you,” to someone, rather than roll my eyes, I think of Max’s limitless diplomacy.

In 2000 ASU developed a program called “Open Door,” which is a simple, visible indication on a faculty member’s office door that that faculty member’s office is a safe house, no matter who you are or how you’re made. The program is merely a campus-wide representation of the support Max provided for years on his own. May we all learn to be as open. May we all celebrate Max’s humor, his joy for life, his ways of honoring diversity. May we all hone our ability to discern, as he did, what is important. And what is not.

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend