LELAND SMITH (b 1925 )
The story of American composer Leland Clayton Smith is one of versatility and excellence. In a musical career that has spanned over seventy years, Smith’s work as a composer, performer, teacher, and computer software developer has reached consistently high levels of achievement and recognition.
Smith presents a biographical sketch of himself in his own words:
I was born 6 August 1925 in Oakland, California. I began serious study of music at the age of eleven, concentrating on the piano and woodwinds, but also learning the rudiments of brass and string instruments. I joined the Musicians’ Union at the age of seventeen (playing tenor sax in dubious San Francisco nightclubs) and am now a life member. I began composing at age eleven and, after brief music theory studies in the Oakland Public Schools, I began, at the age of fifteen, studying counterpoint, orchestration, and composition with Darius Milhaud—who magically appeared in my Oakland neighborhood in 1941. During the war years I served for two and a half years in the Navy, regularly performing on six different instruments as a member of the 13th Naval District Admiral’s Band based in Bremerton, Washington. After the war I spent two and a half years at the University of California in Berkeley studying with Roger Sessions. In that time I received the A.B. degree with Highest Honors in Music, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and received the M.A. in composition. During that same time I became an assistant to Darius Milhaud in his teaching at Mills College. In 1948 I began a year’s study at the Paris Conservatory, which included classes of Olivier Messiaen and woodwind performance and conducting.
In 1950 I returned to New York where I began playing in concerts of the National Orchestral Association and the International Society for Contemporary Music. I also worked for the Mercury Music Publishing Company. In the fall of 1950 I was engaged as a bassoonist with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. In the years up to the mid-sixties I also played in the San Francisco Symphony, the orchestras of the New York City Ballet and the Chicago Lyric Opera, and the Chicago Symphony. My teaching career covered 42 years and included public school music, one year at Mills College, six years at the University of Chicago, and 34 years at Stanford, where I served as major advisor for 41 students receiving music doctorates in composition, computer music and musicology. I also have taught at Colgate University and served as Visiting Distinguished Professor at the University of California at Davis. My compositions have been performed by the San Francisco Symphony, the Orchestra of America (Carnegie Hall), and the Singapore Symphony. Also my works have been presented in Athens, Belgrade, Paris, London, Chicago, Taipei, etc. I have lectured on various musical topics in over ten different countries in America, Europe and Asia.
In the 1960s I began working with computer-generated sound and assisted John Chowning in the founding of the Stanford Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA). I served as a musical programming consultant for the establishment of the IRCAM center in Paris. In 1970 I turned my attention to computerized music typography, producing the first completely computer-produced edition of music in 1971. In 1979 I published the first book on music ever produced completely by the computer. The outgrowth of this work, the SCORE music typography system, is now being used by many of the world’s leading publishers.
Throughout his teaching career, Smith taught a number of noted composers including William Bolcom, Richard Swift, David Lang, Kui Dong, and Dexter Morrill. Smith’s own output as a composer dates primarily from the years 1940–70, ending when he began intense work in the computer music field. Though Smith has completed no new compositions since 1971, he assembled a distinguished body of music in many forms, including an opera (on a libretto by E. E. Cummings), orchestral works, choral and vocal music, and numerous chamber and solo pieces. Most of Smith’s music falls into this final category, drawing upon his extensive experience as a chamber musician. He is a self-described “miniaturist”, usually creating his works from the compilation of short movements.
Despite Smith’s considerable success in the fields of composition, performance and education, it is his work in computer music that has made an indelible impression on the musical landscape of the twentieth century. His SCORE music typography system was not only the first system of its kind, but set the standard for professional computer music engraving. Though its dominance in the field has lessened with its age and the new and further updates to subsequently released computer software programs, the output from SCORE continues to remain the benchmark by which professional engravers judge music typography.
Smith’s compositions employ a delightfully personal musical style, combining elaborations of traditional forms with a harmonic language integrating both extended tonality and atonality. One of the most immediately noticeable style elements is a witty sense of musical humor. The use of humor within a serious musical language is a rare attribute but has occurred from time to time throughout music history in the catalogues of composers such as Josef Haydn and György Ligeti.