Lowell James Smith

 1931 -

Lowell Smith, an organist and carillonneur, taught in three Seventh-day Adventist schools and at the University of California during a twenty-year career in academia. Although he then pursued a career in property management, he continued to be active as a musician, playing carillon and serving as organist and minister of music in a number of churches.

Lowell was one of five children born to Theodore and Mabel Peters Smith. Although he was born in Bakersfield, he spent most of his childhood in Shafter, California. While there were no musicians in his immediate family, a great uncle in the San Joaquin Valley owned a "good music" radio station that played records from his personal classical record collection.

Lowell's introduction to music started with piano lessons from a Miss Newman in the third grade. While his instrument for practice was an old piano that could not be kept in tune, which his mother had purchased when he was six, it was the start of serious study for him. A year after starting lessons, he was playing hymns for morning worship in his classroom at Kern Academy.

By the time he left KA at the end of ninth grade, he had studied with two other teachers, one of whom had encouraged him to study at Pacific Union College. After he graduated from PUC Preparatory School in 1949, he enrolled at PUC as an elementary education major and music minor. He studied organ with C. Warren Becker for the next year and a half, until he had to leave school for financial reasons.

For the next two years, Smith taught all eight grades in a one-room elementary school near Yerington, Nevada, long enough to learn that he did not want to pursue teaching at that level. At the end of the second year, he returned to PUC, only to be drafted into the army that summer. He served for the next two years as an assistant to the Adventist chaplain at Camp Picket, Virginia.

During this time, Smith began to realize that he had enough musical talent to have a career as a music teacher and when he was discharged, returned to PUC, where he completed a degree in music education in 1957 with organ as his performance area. He wanted to immediately begin work on a master's degree in organ performance, hoping to study with Catherine Crosier. However, because at that time she was not teaching at a school with a graduate program in music, he decided to accept an instrumental music position at Indiana Academy.

Smith started work on a master's degree at Indiana University while teaching at the academy. Two years later, in 1959, he was invited to teach at Southern Missionary College, now Southern Adventist University, where he taught for one year. At the end of that year, he accepted an invitation to teach at PUC and that September was awarded a master's degree with distinction in organ performance at IU.

Although wanting to pursue a doctorate at IU in organ performance, he instead, while at PUC, decided to apply for a Fulbright Grant for a year of study on carillon in Holland. He completed a terminal diploma, the equivalent of an MFA, in carillon performance at the Dutch Carillon School during that year.

In 1966, after teaching at PUC for six years, Smith was invited to teach at the University of California, Riverside. During the next eleven years at UCR, he traveled extensively as an organist and carillonneur and also performed as a church musician in area churches, a service he has provided throughout his career. He also served as a member on and president of the Riverside Opera Association board.

Smith became chair of the music program at UCR and at the conclusion of his term in that office decided he did not want to return to the classroom. He pursued a second career as a general manager of large construction projects. His work in this area eventually took him to Iowa, where he oversaw an extensive building program for two school districts in that state. Now retired, he still resides in Iowa.

After leaving academia and eventually retiring, he has remained active as a musician, serving as a church musician in several churches. He earned membership in the Carillonneur Guild of North America and in his career as a carilloneur has been twice invited to compete in the carillon competition for Dutch Radio at Hilversum, Nederlands.


Sources: Information provided by Lowell Smith, 2009; California Birth Index, Ancestory.com.

My Life in Music

Lowell Smith

When I was six years old, my mother bought a piano for $5. It had been brought from the humidity of the Great Lakes to the dryness of the California valley where we were living, and the dried-out pin block could not hold a tuning. Since my mother was too poor to hire a piano tuner, I made repeated attempts to retune it with a monkey wrench, no less.

I was in the third grade before I began taking piano lessons. The first piece I remember learning was Arthur Sullivan's The Lost Chord. By the time I was in the fourth grade, I was playing hymns for morning worship in our classroom. When I was in the eighth grade, my teacher told me I really needed to go to Pacific Union College to study. As a na´ve farm boy, I didn't realize she was saying I had talent that should be developed.

I attended public school for kindergarten and first grade because my mother, who was raising three boys on her own, could not afford the tuition for the Adventist school. By the second grade, she was finally able to put us into Kern Academy, where I attended through the ninth grade. I attended Redwood Junior Academy for my sophomore year and then attended public high school for part of my junior year.

At that time, I moved to Sanitarium, California, and completed high school at the PUC Preparatory School. After I graduated, I enrolled at PUC, where I started studying organ with C. Warren Becker. I recall being discouraged because I couldn't get my feet and hands to work together. When I asked him if he thought I could become an organist, he said that though I would probably not be the world's best organist, he was sure I could complete an organ major.

I had been self-supporting since I left home after the ninth grade. I was able to complete the freshman year and half of the sophomore year before the business manager told me that I could not register again until my bill was paid. I was taking an elementary education major and music minor, simply because I felt there would be more job security as a grade school teacher.

In the spring of 1951, I interviewed with the Nevada-Utah Conference and was selected to serve as a nineteen-year-old pastor/teacher in Milford, Utah. I set out to visit the church, but I stopped in Reno to visit with the education secretary. He decided I would be better suited to teach in a one-teacher school thirty miles from Yerington, Nevada. After two years of teaching and playing piano there, I decided I was not destined to be the world's greatest elementary school teacher.

When I returned to PUC, intending to enroll for fall quarter, I received a draft notice from the army to report for induction right after the 4th of July. During basic training, I befriended Adventist chaplain Major Floyd E. Bresee, at Camp Picket in Virginia, and ended up being assigned as his Chaplain's Assistant.

During my two years in the army, I noticed that there were a lot of people making music and earning a living that I thought were no better than I was and decided to become a music major when I returned to PUC. After my discharge, I tried to enroll at PUC only to be told that I still couldn't come back until my bill was paid, even though I knew I had paid off my bill.

I found that during the four years I was away, another Lowell Smith had enrolled and that my money had been credited to his account. This created confusion for the next two years since alphabetical assignment for Chapel placed him next to me, and the monitor was never sure who was missing from worship. I completed a BA degree in organ with C. Warren Becker in 1957 and planned to immediately begin graduate study.

When I attempted to study the organ with Catherine Crosier at Rollins College in Florida and could not because it was only an undergraduate school, I accepted an offer to be the instrumental teacher at Indiana Academy, teaching everything but voice, even accordion at one point!

I was responsible for the academy band and during my time there we bought the first uniforms for the group and did several short tours. I gained acceptance to the Indiana University School of Music and started study on organ with Oswald Ragataz and on bassoon with Roy Hauser.

While at IA, I commuted with the academy voice teacher, Don Runyan, to IU for study during the school year and in the summer between my two years at the school. At the end of the second year, I was invited to teach at Southern Missionary College [now Southern Adventist University]. I began teaching in the fall of 1959, though my preference would have been to replace C. Warren Becker, who had left PUC. When I was teaching at Southern and serving at a small Sunday church, I recall having to teach the choir that the word "iron" is a two-syllable word in the song In the Bleak Midwinter.

After only one year at SMC, I was invited to teach at PUC. In September 1960, I completed an M.Mus. with distinction from Indiana University and a few weeks later started teaching at PUC.

I continued studying with Ragatz after I completed my master's degree, intending to pursue a doctorate in organ performance. This, however, would have required four memorized recitals, and since I have great difficulty with memorization, I was concerned about the time it would require to complete it.

In the summer of 1964, I learned about the Fulbright grants, and since there had been a promise of a carillon for the new PUC Church, I decided to apply for one to underwrite study at the Dutch Carillon School. Success there would give me a terminal diploma and solve my memorization problem since it would be the equivalent of the old Master of Fine Arts degree. In that year of study, I earned the "Eind" diploma from the school and performed in a wide variety of places in Holland. I had done well enough that I was invited to compete in the carillon competition at Hilversum, Nederlands, at the end of that year.

Early in my career, my performances were mainly tied to being the college organist. At PUC this meant a minimum of six services a week in addition to teaching responsibilities. After returning from Holland, I also became organist for the First Baptist Church in Vallejo, California.

After six years at PUC, I accepted a position at the University of California, Riverside, where I taught for the next eleven years. I also became Organist/Choir Director for Eden Lutheran Church in Riverside and, after a sabbatical, served as organist for First Church of Christ, Scientist, in that city. I worked as an accompanist for various musical events and also did summer concert tours playing the carillon all across the U.S.

I ended my music teaching career as chair of the music department at UCR. I found that I enjoyed being "the boss" and making things happen. Since my chairmanship would soon be ending and I would be rotated back to the classroom to say, "This is a treble clef" about 75 more times before retirement, I decided to pursue a management career in the field of Property Management.

Before my last position ended, I had served as general manager of large subsidized housing projects, all of the single housing for the Naval Air Station in Alameda, and two large condominium projects. I did the same for the construction of nine elementary schools, a middle school, a high school for 4500 students, and other facilities, a total of fifteen, in two school districts in Iowa, and a fourteen-story high-rise condominium in Iowa.

I have continued to be a performing musician since I left academia. I served as organist for chapels at Travis Air Force base; Napa Douglas Avenue United Methodist Church; Presbyterian Church in Des Moines, and the St. Paul Lutheran Church in Grimes, Iowa. I presently perform as organist and choir director for the Dallas Center United Methodist Church in Iowa. At one juncture I performed as organist and choir director at the St. Paul Roman Catholic Church in the Mission District of San Francisco, which was the setting for the popular movie "Sister Act."