Two of the NY Philharmonic’s principal players are retiring this year- concertmaster Glenn Dicterow and trumpeter Philip Smith.
I don’t know Glenn, but I have known Phil Smith since I was a young kid. We both studied cornet with Phil’s dad, Derek Smith. Phil and I grew up in Salvation Army circles and our dads played together in the New York Staff Band of the SA.
Phil has had an amazing career in New York. I own several of his recordings and listen to them often. My favorite recordings of his are his orchestra excerpts CD and the Mahler 3rd Symphony with Bernstein conducting. Phil plays the offstage posthorn solo, beautifully as usual.
Derek taught us to play cornet and somehow imparted to his students that warm, sweet tone with just the right amount of subtle vibrato. When I hear Phil play, I hear Derek’s tone and I think, some of my own as well.
Even though there is plenty to admire musically about Phil Smith’s playing, it’s his integrity and principles (no pun intended) that come to mind when you think of him. Phil’s Christian spirit and unwavering commitment to Godly truth are what make him what he is, in my opinion. How many other principal players of top orchestras would go back to the smaller organizations and play “simpler” music and donate their time to Christian service. It’s wonderful to know that someone like him could make such an impact, and also be well respected in the secular community. He will be greatly missed in New York. Wherever the next chapter in his life leads him, though, he will surely give it his best, for his Master.
There is no shortage of amazing brass players in the world. There are those whose technical prowess is just simply unbelievable. However, I find that these technical feats are not really what I’m drawn to while listening to performances.
One of my first trumpet teachers, Derek Smith, said in the liner notes to his CD, Heavenly Gales, that his playing was always about the message behind the music. In his case, playing for the Salvation Army Staff Band, it was about the Christian message. When I listen to his recordings, I hear the love that he has for the Savior, coming through in the melodies he plays. It is the message that draws me in, and I believe, countless others as well.
Another great musician, Samuel Hsu once said, “Technique is nothing; love is everything.” Without the personal expression of the performer, there is something missing in the music. Sure, it may sound good, but it won’t touch the listener.
There is a wonderful recording by Derek Smith’s son, Philip Smith, of the Gershwin tune, Someone to Watch Over Me. Even though it was originally intended as a secular tune, I feel that Phil has made it about the Lord watching over him, in his daily life. It may just be my own feelings, but have a listen for yourself.
Anyone in the New York City area on December 15th at 3:00pm- be sure to catch Phil Smith, my childhood friend, fellow Salvation Army member, and principal trumpet of the New York Philharmonic in concert. He is performing with other principal brass players from the orchestra in their holiday program. Besides being a fantastic trumpet player, Phil is a great personal friend and wonderful Christian.