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.