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The Big Green Machine was just getting in gear with Clarence M. Smith at the controls.

The Cumberland County native knew there were Carlisle High School students who wanted to play music at football games and other occasions where an orchestra would not be appropriate.

So Smith organized the first high school band to play at the dedication ceremony of the Stevens School Building on Nov. 19, 1926 at the intersection of Franklin and Lincoln streets.

“Carlisle was treated to a delightful surprise,” The Sentinel reported the next day. “Although only a few weeks old, the young fellows marched and played like veterans. The band will add materially to the reputation of Carlisle as the musical town of the valley.”

A life and legacy

Reviewing the man and his legacy, the same could be said of Smith who died 40 years ago this past week on Dec. 12, 1978. Known by many as “Mr. Music” or just plain “Smitty,” he was 96 years old.

“His whole life was music, it really was,” his daughter Florence Chronister told the newspaper Dec. 13. “He spent hours and hours with orchestras and bands and he loved it.”

The Sentinel editorial board added its own coda on Dec. 14 with a column titled “The Beat Goes On” published on the opinion page: “There is great joy in making music as any musician knows. Mr. Smith’s melodies came from instruments, but they also came from the heart. He is gone, but remains the spiritual leader of the band.”

Many bands, actually. Aside from Carlisle, Smith started high school bands in Newville and Shippensburg along with community bands in all three towns in 1900, 1920 and 1930, respectively.

Chronister mentioned how her father was instrumental in getting a lot of people started in music. He had owned the Smith Music House in downtown Carlisle for over 40 years. The shop began on West High Street before moving to South Hanover Street where the business was expanded to include appliances.

Over 700 people had gathered in the Carlisle High School auditorium on Sept. 10, 1972, to attend a special concert held in honor of Smith’s 90th birthday. The highlight that afternoon was when Smith directed a joint ensemble of the Carlisle and Shippensburg community bands in “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

“I was on the spot,” Smith told The Sentinel. “It was wonderful and the men who played were wonderful.” He also played bass clarinet with the combined band that Sunday.

Carlisle Borough Council issued a proclamation in recognition of Smith’s contributions to local music. His name was given to a scholarship fund for an outstanding member of the Carlisle High School band. His birthday cake was in the shape of a piano. There has been plenty written about Smith over the decades.

Born Sept. 8, 1882, Smith learned to play the cornet in 1896, according to a 1951 article published in a C.H. Masland and Sons publication. He started the Carlisle Community Band in 1900 and, five years later, the entire group enlisted in the U.S. Army and became part of the 8th Pennsylvania Infantry Band.

In his youth, Smith was also the leader and first director of the Pomona Grange Orchestra which combined all of the orchestras in Cumberland County into one ensemble to give concerts at Williams Grove.

The band begins

Smith started the Carlisle High School band in November 1926 and arranged for its first appearance that Thanksgiving at a home football game against Mechanicsburg before a crowd of about 3,000 at Biddle Field.

Thirteen years later, on Nov. 25, 1939, The Sentinel wrote about how the Carlisle High School band was five minutes late to its first public performance when the cornerstone was laid for the Stephens School.

“But as soon as it began to play one of the two numbers which the boys had learned, everyone immediately came to the windows to see what was disturbing the exercises,” The Sentinel reported. “Much to the surprise of all, there stood a band – the first Carlisle High School band.”

The purpose of the 1939 article was to publicize a fair the band had organized for Dec. 1 and 2 to raise money for the purchase of new uniforms. The band uniform started with green sweaters before progressing to white pants and later green and white capes.

In 1931, the Carlisle High School band placed second in the first annual Cumberland County School Band Competition. It was only the start of a winning record that continues to present-day.

Smith himself had played all band instruments and specialized in the cornet and clarinet. But his most enduring legacy was his lifetime of building up the music scene in Cumberland County and his philosophy on education.

“Give music to every child and he will be equipped to make the best, safest and most enjoyable use of his leisure time throughout life,” Smith once said. The Sentinel quoted him in its 1978 column “The Beat Goes On” before adding:

“A measure of greatness is what [a] man leaves behind him, what he accomplished [and] how his deeds withstand the test of time. Music spans all language, age and racial barriers and Mr. Smith’s accomplishments in that behalf are remarkable.”

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Email Joseph Cress at jcress@cumberlink.com.

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Education/History Reporter

History and education reporter for The Sentinel.