Norman Smith

Dr. Norman E. Smith, professor emeritus of music in the School of Arts & Sciences, passed away March 5 at age 82.

Dr. Smith was born in Benton, Arkansas on November 4, 1931. He earned his undergraduate degree from Hendrix College in 1953 and his doctorate in 1964 at Yale University, where he studied with William Waite and Leo Schrade. He was appointed assistant professor in the department of music at the University of Pennsylvania in the same year, remaining here until his retirement in 2000.

Noted as being a star teacher in the department of music, Dr. Smith was a recipient of the Lindback Award in 1991 (Almanac April 16, 1991). He taught his year-long survey of the history of music for non-majors in a way that gave rise to ongoing correspondence with dozens of students that sometimes lasted for decades. “The subject of their letters often was their gratitude for the treasure Dr. Smith had introduced to their lives with a level of enthusiasm that inevitably was seductive,” said Dr. Lawrence E. Bernstein, professor emeritus of music. “Among those students are some whose names we would recognize in the field: Tom Brothers, Jesse Rodin and David Rothenberg, all of whom had their initial exposure to early music in this course. Dr. Smith’s graduate courses were equally influential. His two-semester seminar on paleography achieved a legendary status. So rich were the content and underlying methodology of this course that at least one student returned to audit it for a second time years after completing her PhD.”

Dr. Smith served as director of graduate studies in the department of music from 1967-1983. “In this capacity, he shepherded doctoral students through the program and sustained the curriculum with the same meticulous care that distinguished his scholarly work,” said Dr. Bernstein. “More important though was the humane dimension he brought to this role. Many a graduate student suggested that Norman carried out his responsibilities as graduate chair in ways that made him the backbone of their sanity at a most vulnerable stage of their lives. Dr. Smith’s capacity to listen with empathy offered a model that cried out for emulation by his colleagues (even if, deep down, we all knew we couldn’t even come close to attaining his levels of achievement in this arena).”

“Few scholars anywhere could match the depth of Dr. Smith’s understanding of early polyphony,” said Dr. Bernstein. “His widely cited corpus of articles on this repertory treats its sources, notation, style, compositional process and the relationship between text and music at an extraordinary level of meticulous care. His work shed important light on the forces that gave rise to the emergence of the motet.”