Smith hits right note

By William P. Thompson: PNT Staff Writer

Portales High School choir teacher Franklin Smith tried to talk himself out of his music calling, but a college music professor told him he had what it takes to instill a love of music in teens.

“I was at a crossroads. I was working as a server at Bennigan’s in Albuquerque. I was wanting to do anything in broadcast television, like be a technician or a sound editor,” Smith said. “One of my music professors at ENMU (Eastern New Mexico University), John Olsen, told me in an e-mail that he thought I was good with kids when I was teaching them piano.”

Smith said he moved back to Portales and took a music teacher’s aide job at James Elementary. He liked it enough that the following year he applied for the combined position of director of choral music at both Portales Junior High and Portales High School.

He got the job and now he’s in his seventh year leading the vocal ensembles at both schools.

“I love where I’m at right now,” Smith said. “I think I’m more suited for this age group. I’m able to connect with them and make an impact in their lives. Being a good role model is more than just teaching music. You have to be a counselor, sometimes and sometimes you have to be their friend.”
Smith credits his Baptist upbringing in Portales for his ability to guide students.

“As far as my religion, I try to portray it in the way I act, not necessarily by talking about it a lot,” he said.

Many of the vocal pieces his students perform are religious works, but that’s because the choral tradition is steeped in religion.

“We’re doing a hymn right now and it is one of our strongest songs,” he said. “The students love to to sing it.”

Smith also interjects tunes from popular musicals like “Phantom of the Opera” and “Rent” into his students’ repertoire. No matter what type of song it is, he stresses preparation. All that preparation paid off this year when the high school’s top choir won superior ratings in the district performance and sight reading categories.

“I think you always have to have a little bit of mellowness in the rehearsal. The students need to feel at ease, but they might go over the same part of the piece 50 times in one rehearsal,” he said.

Smith said a Portales teacher, Eunice Schumpert, taught him piano from the age of seven and instilled in him his love of music. She eventually taught him how to improvise.
“She taught my father-in-law, she taught me, and now she’s teaching my 10-year-old son,” Smith said.

Now, Smith is trying to do the same for the current crop of Portales schoolchildren that Schumpert did for previous generations.

“The biggest thing about this (teaching) is it instills a lifelong love of music,” he said. “Music surrounds us. I just think that people who are sensitive to music are generally more well-rounded and I would imagine they are happier.”
Smith said he can see how his teaching inspires his students to give their best.

“When I’m away and come back and hear them sing before a substitute teacher, I can tell their performance is not as good as when I’m conducting,” he said.

Smith said more parents are realizing that ensemble singing is something good for their children.

“There have been parents who have kept their children out of honors classes so they could take my classes,” he said. “The singing provides teamwork and leadership roles.”

Smith has produced CD’s of his own instrumental music, but he’s not interested in a heavy marketing push. He said he’s happy if just a few friends and family members enjoy it. He call his latest work, “Speechless.” Much of it is played on a sequenced keyboard synthesizer. He calls it ambient music. He said he listened to techno and 80’s music as a teen.

“Music is wonderful in that you can express things that you might have trouble expressing in words,” he said. “My music is about my feelings for my wife, my family and my parents,” he said. “It’s the emotions I feel for them.”

Smith is quick to cite Beethoven as his favorite composer.

“A lot of people don’t make a big enough deal that he lost his hearing,” Smith said. “I just think it’s great that he was able to hear that music inside his head. His music has such passion. You can hear the yearning of his heart.”

To obtain a copy of one of Smith’s CDs e-mail him at:
smithfamily@650dialup.com