Remembering Alice Smith

By Gus Denhard

Alice Smith died in October 2019 after enjoying a multi-faceted 40 year relationship with the early music community in Seattle. Her generous bequest of $50,000 to Early Music Seattle has been earmarked by the Board of Directors for pre-endowment planning.

Alice Smith was one of the founding members of the Early Music Guild (now Early Music Seattle), an organization that sprung from a grass roots movement of local performers, scholars, and music lovers to develop  community interest in the historical performance of European Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque music.  After living in California and then England, Alice moved to Seattle in 1974 with an Arnold Dolmetsch recorder in hand and a passionate interest in early music. She soon became involved in Seattle’s budding early music scene, in which she would participate for the rest of her life.

Her first involvement in early music was with the Seattle Recorder Society, where she took classes and participated in ensembles that deepened her interest. She eventually formed an ensemble with other Renaissance recorder players called the Minim Molls. The Molls read their music from original Renaissance notation, quite different from today’s sheet music.  The skills required to decipher the music speak volumes about Alice and her colleagues; they combined their love of history and music with a rare intellectual rigor. This dedicated ensemble rehearsed weekly with essentially the same personnel for over three decades.

Alice joined the board of Early Music Guild in 1979, one year after the organization had received its non-profit status and presented its first public concert.  Alice was an underwriter for that concert, which featured and English lute played by Robert Spencer and music sung by countertenor James Brown in May  of 1978. Tickets to that first performance cost $4, with a reduced fee of $2.50!  Needless to say, the role of the donor was as critical in those days as it is now, keeping costs low so audiences would take a chance on this “new” old music.

Alice participated on the EMG board for many years and brought her finely-honed writing and editing skills to the new organization, writing and editing countless hard copy programs and newsletters.  She came by her skills and love of accurate language honestly, drawn from her experience as a technical writer for Microsoft and general editor for Arts Line Magazine, a publication that covered the fledgling arts scene in Seattle.

The strong sense of community that Alice and others helped build around early music and historical performance is one of the reasons Early Music Seattle thrives today. The founders of EMG not only studied and performed early music together, they also organized mailing parties for season announcements, built harpsichords from kits, hosted auctions in their homes, toured venues to evaluate acoustics, created workshops on early music open to the public, and in the absence of paid staff, planned and produced all public concerts with volunteer labor only.  In the process they built a community that loves and supports early music, a community that even in the face of a pandemic, thrives to this day.