Jordan Randall Smith
Innovation: Bringing classical music concerts to underserved populations
Home: Mt. Vernon
Occupation: Orchestra Conductor, PhD candidate at Peabody Conservatory
Hobbies: Running, reading, checking out breweries, listening to expert talks on YouTube
Fun Fact: Had an epiphany about symphonic music while marching in his high school band’s drumline
Twitter Handle: @symphno1
Love of music inspires Jordan Randall Smith to spread the joy.
By Lisa Simeone
Photography by Justin Tsucalas
“Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast.” The words of William Congreve, often quoted and more often misquoted, still resonate 300 years after they were written, because people still respond to music. They’re often passionate about it. So passionate, they’ll even travel long distances and pay lots of money to hear it.
It’s that passion that Jordan Smith hopes to ignite in audiences in West Baltimore with free concerts by his ensemble, Symphony Number One. Smith is the Founder and Music Director of this chamber orchestra, which has drawn musicians not only from the Peabody Conservatory, where Smith is a PhD candidate, but from across the country.
Classical music has long borne a reputation as an art form enjoyed only by wealthy, white audiences. Smith believes that reputation is outdated. For one thing, you’ll see plenty of black and brown faces in Symphony Number One. For another, the excitement of a live concert, with musicians close enough to touch, is, Smith says, a draw in and of itself.
“I believe there’s a hunger for this kind of experience,” he says. “Our hope is that whatever we do, an audience looks forward to our arrival.” That arrival might be in a homeless shelter, a rec center, or a public park. Smith is partnering with organizations such as Coppin and Morgan State Universities and Innovation Village to identify appropriate venues.
My parents weren’t really into classical music. I learned about it on my own. It was just part of the fabric of growing up, along with hanging out with friends, eating hamburgers, watching cable TV, and getting a girl’s phone number. Classical music reached me and had things to say to me. So I think it can reach other people as well.
When it comes to classical music, Smith considers himself a late bloomer. Though his father was a church choir director and his mother a pianist, he says he was “more Frasier and my parents more Martin,” a reference to the 1990s sitcom “Frasier” that featured a sophisticated leading man and his more down-to-earth father.
“I had a middle-class upbringing,” says Smith, who’s from Dallas, Texas. “My parents weren’t really into classical music. I learned about it on my own. It was just part of the fabric of growing up, along with hanging out with friends, eating hamburgers, watching cable TV, and getting a girl’s phone number. Classical music reached me and had things to say to me. So I think it can reach other people as well.”
Symphony Number One plays the standard repertory – Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Mahler – but also commissions new works from contemporary composers. And the group is always looking for ways to incorporate technology into its work, whether it’s livestreaming concerts or translating foreign language song texts on its website.
“We have to be citizens of this city,” Smith says. “We have to acknowledge our position. How do we break into the red lines that have been drawn around neighborhoods? How can we converse with people? We do it through music.”