Since Jean De Smidt ’70 graduated from Central College, she has traveled the country playing and writing all types of music.
De Smidt first came to Central on a visit by her mother’s recommendation. Performances of Central’s music ensembles were once played on local radio stations, and De Smidt says, “My mother would hear music from Central College on the radio and she liked the music.” After visiting, De Smidt also fell in love with the school.
During her time at Central, De Smidt participated in wind ensemble, orchestra and the A Cappella Choir under the direction of Dr. Larry Grooters. “When you are in college you don’t appreciate what it is to sing in a group like that. After graduation you can still enjoy music, but it’s not on the same level,” De Smidt says.
After graduation, De Smidt went on to earn a master’s degree in flute from the College of New Jersey, and her passion for music has continued throughout her life. De Smidt’s husband Jim is a minister and a musician, and the couple has moved around quite a bit during the years. But everywhere they go, they look for ways to become involved in music.
“Every time my husband moved to a different church for his job the music changed,” De Smidt says. “When we were in Laramie (Wyoming) I was the music director and we had a praise team. Then I started messing around with bluegrass. We played some festivals.”
It was in Wyoming that the couple began to play with the group The Other Mountain Band. After members of the group moved on, the De Smidts became The Other Mountain Remnant. In Colorado, where the De Smidt’s currently live, they participate in Irish and Celtic music sessions. “Right now Celtic music is more fun for me because I get to play my flute and that is what my degree is in,” De Smidt says. Over the years, she has also taught hundreds of private students and has directed choirs.
The De Smidts find music also has a way of lifting people’s spirits. They currently play for the Little Chapel Food Pantry in Teller County, which is based out of their church and serves 150 families. In 2012, the pantry distributed 697,000 pounds of food. Today, De Smidt says playing at the food pantry is the most important music she and her husband perform.
“The people who come to the food pantry weren’t always like this. The music we play takes them back to a good place and for that moment their life is a little better,” she says.
De Smidt believes all musicians need to have a certain level of versatility. “In this day and age a musician has to be able to do many things. It’s hard for a musician to make a living on one instrument unless you are extremely talented. My advice for younger musicians would be to learn how to play the piano well; there are not enough people who are good at piano. Evaluate what your skills are and find a teacher who helps you develop them. If you have the talent then you should pursue music … be flexible and ready to change.”
The De Smidts have started a Central College musical tradition in their family. “Both of my sons, my daughter-in-law and my brother graduated from Central,” De Smidt says. “My brothers and sons were all music majors.” Central has also seen some of De Smidt’s students walk through its doors. “I love teaching private lessons, and the fact that I could participate in both vocal and instrumental music at Central has given me a variety of skills to do that.”
A highlight for her family was coming back to Central to sing in a choir reunion. She says, “It was overwhelming getting to go back and be part of a wonderful sound.”