Henry Charles Smith III, a musician, conductor and teacher who led the Minnesota Orchestra from 1971 to 1988, died in early September. He was 90.
Smith also led the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Bach Society of Minnesota, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and the Kansas City Symphony. He was also a well-respected teacher who taught and conducted youth orchestras and mentored prospective conductors.
Smith was the Minnesota Orchestra's assistant conductor from 1971 to 1973, associate conductor from 1973 to 1981 and resident conductor from 1981 to 1988. He led the orchestra in more than 1,000 performances, many of them focused on students.
Born and raised in Lower Merion, Pa., Smith started playing the violin in second grade and embraced the trombone in junior high. As a kid, he saved enough money to buy his own piano.
In 1952, he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a B.A. in music. He then served two years in the Army. In 1955, he completed his performance diploma at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
In 1948, Smith attended the National Music Camp (now Interlochen Arts Camp), a summer boarding school for youth musicians in northwestern Michigan. He eventually became a staff member there and made Interlochen his summer home for 38 years, including 16 as music director of the World Youth Symphony Orchestra.
Smith joined the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1955 and a year later became principal trombonist under conductor Eugene Ormandy.
He spent 12 years with the orchestra, doing live performances, studio recordings and touring. He was also a founding member of the Philadelphia Brass Ensemble, which won a Grammy Award in 1969.
Smith's trombone playing was legendary, and many people thought he was crazy to leave the Philadelphia Orchestra to pursue a conducting career. One of Smith's first conducting gigs was leading the Rochester (Minn.) Symphony in 1967-68.
To Smith, playing, conducting and teaching went hand in hand. According to his wife, Norma Jean Falink, Smith always had more than one job.
Smith resigned from the Minnesota Orchestra in 1988 to take a teaching position at the University of Texas at Austin. He had a long list of other teaching credits at other schools, including the Curtis Institute of Music, Temple University, Indiana University, University of Texas and St. Olaf, Northwestern and Bethel colleges, and as professor emeritus at Arizona State University. He also spent 12 years leading the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra and in 1972 helped found the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies.
While Smith grew up in an era of tough, demanding orchestra conductors, his style of conducting was encouraging and supportive. "His whole focus was developing the love of music and the confidence and expertise to perform it," Falink said. "He's very demanding, but in a very gentle way."
Ellen Dinwiddie Smith, a horn player with the Minnesota Orchestra, said, "I never heard a mean, backhanded, unkind word from him. He really led with kindness. … He had a very gentle way of bringing you to him."
Smith was preceded in death by his first wife, Mary Jane. He is survived by wife Norma Jean Falink; his sister, Ruth Leach; his three children and three stepchildren; 12 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. A memorial service is planned for a later date
Patrick Kennedy • 612-673-7926