In 1967, Calvin L. Smith's career began to take form with the help of SUNY Fredonia. Fittingly, in July of this year, some Fredonians helped bring it to a poignant close.
The first Calvin Smith Festival and Brass Quintet Competition was created in Oak Ridge, Tenn., to honor the late 1972 Fredonia alumnus who passed away of a sudden heart attack at just 61 years of age, and SUNY Fredonia's Fireside Brass Quintet, an all-student musical group, won second place - and $1,000 - at the inaugural event.
Since 1993, Smith had been a professor at the University of Tennessee, where he taught horn and Brass Literature, directed the Horn Ensemble and coached chamber music. He was principal horn of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra and Knoxville Wind Symphony, and was well-known in the Nashville music scene, having recorded with many orchestras and such famous artists as Faith Hill, Barbra Streisand and Prince. His nearly 40-year career also included time in Los Angeles performing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic among many other area ensembles. He was also a former member of the Annapolis Brass Quintet, America's first full-time brass ensemble.
SUNY Fredonia’s Fireside Brass Quintet placed second at the first Calvin Smith Festival and Brass Quintet Competition, named in memory of the 1972 SUNY Fredonia alumnus who passed away a year ago. Held in Oak Ridge, Tenn., the all-student group was presented its award by Smith’s widow and fellow Fredonia alumna Paula (Maxfield), ’74. Pictured from left are Mike Dorato, John Bailey, John Kresse, Mrs. Smith, Amanda Willard and Kathy Haynes.
His passion for performance originated at SUNY Fredonia, where he auditioned for the School of Music as a trumpet player. However, he was soon asked to try the horn and began taking instruction with his first private teacher, Professor Lowell Shaw.
Fredonia was not only where Smith found his love of the horn; it's where he met the love of his life - fellow Music Education major Paula (Maxfield), '74. They would enjoy a long and joyful marriage and raise two sons, Nathan and Jeremy.
However, on May 8, 2011, after doing some work outside, Calvin had a massive, fatal heart attack. His close friends and colleagues Sean Greene and Robert Owen were devastated, but came up with the concept of the competition as a way to keep his memory, spirit and passion for music alive.
"We were really shaken up by Calvin's passing and wanted a way to keep his name on people's minds," said Greene who, along with Owen, was in an area quintet with him. "We are also really interested in promoting brass chamber music, so a competition like this one seemed like the most appropriate event. Calvin was probably our strongest supporter and biggest influence as a quintet."
On July 6, the Fireside quintet traveled to Tennessee for the two-day event. They competed against nine other quintets from around the country and, on Day 2, performed against four finalists.
"The level of playing at this year's competition was very high," said Greene. "We were all thrilled that a group from Calvin's alma mater entered the festival, and I believe it makes their win even more special for us."
That sentiment was felt even more so by Calvin's widow, Paula, who presented the second place prize to the group.
"I was absolutely thrilled to have a group from our alma mater attend the festival, and (was) very proud when they won second place!" she said. "Calvin and I met at Fredonia, and he would have felt the same. The quality of the group attests to the fact that Fredonia has maintained its status as a top school of music."
The group of New York state natives, which includes John Bailey (Pembroke), Michael Dorato (Albany), Kathy Haynes (Cheektowaga), John Kresse (Cheektowaga), and Amanda Willard (Derby), was especially pleased as well to have been able to lend its support to the Smith family and represent Fredonia proudly in the process.
"The competition was a fun and exciting experience for us," said Haynes. "We went without knowing much about it, and finding out that Calvin and Paula both came from Fredonia pushed us even harder. We wanted to represent the name of Fredonia and show that there is still a strong tradition of musical excellence."
The Fireside quintet originated and began practicing for the competition in January. During the spring semester they played at various area venues, including SUNY Fredonia President Dennis Hefner's retirement reception in May. They look forward to continuing when they return in the fall. To find out where they are playing next, visit www.facebook.com/TheFiresideBrassQuintet.