FECHOPS: Some Brief Memories of Calvin Smith


FECHOPS — Iron Chops — that was on the license plate of Calvin Smith. It is with sadness we at Horn Matters report his passing. While perhaps best known to Horn Call readers as a recordings reviewer, he was Associate Professor of horn at the University of Tennessee Knoxville and Principal Horn of the Knoxville and Long Beach symphonies. Smith suffered a fatal heart attack on Sunday, leaving a wife and two sons. The image linked below is from the UTK Brass faculty page.

He was not that much older than me but my memories of him start way back when I was an undergrad, as he put out several recordings as a young hornist in the Crystal label. In particular my undergrad school owned a copy of his solo recording Horn of Plenty and also a recording of him with the Annapolis Brass Quintet. I lost my copy of the solo recording years ago but remember it well as I listened to over and over.

One thing is when you hear a recording at the right time it can make a deep impression. On that recording (LP only so far as I know) his Schubert Auf dem Strom is excellent with a faster than average tempo I really liked; the Hartley, Sonorites II for Horn & Piano is a work with horn chords that I performed later several times that was specifically written for Smith; the Nelhybel, Scherzo Concertante is a good sprited version; and finally the recording includes the Frank Levy Suite. That piece is not performed often but I think the string of short movements works well for an audience and I was planning to play it again this fall.

As to his background, his bios that I have found online don’t mention his education but I do know that he studied as an undergraduate at SUNY Fredonia. My understanding is he played trumpet in high school and switched to horn relatively late. His first teacher at Fredonia was none other than Lowell Shaw of Frippery fame. Later he went on to free lance in Los Angeles before the move to Knoxville. For more see his bio in his horn studio website.

Much later, when I was playing in Nashville, we had the chance to play jobs together occasionally and I also was able to come out to UT and present a session to his studio on the 19th century horn. I really enjoyed that visit, something that actually motivated me further toward leaving the orchestra and teaching full time.

His funeral is to be held on Wednesday, May 11. The best information I have seen online is in the Knoxville Symphony blog. There the heartfelt post closes with this brief story about his last concert on Saturday night.

The irony of it all is that Chris Botti’s arrangement of Time to Say Goodbye which we performed Saturday night begins with a beautiful horn solo. If you heard it on Saturday night at the Civic, you heard the best. Prayers and thoughts go out to his wife Paula and sons Nathan and Jeremy. The memorial service will be held Wednesday, May 11 at 6:00 pm at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church.

In their post they link to a video of this work which we can’t embed but is very worth watching. It is of the Boston Symphony and not of Calvin performing but very fitting to hear in memory of a lost colleague.

UPDATE: The newspaper obituary is here, he was 61 at his passing.

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