Students performing at our Annapolis Exhibition Music Festival are in for a special treat. They will receive tickets to a concert at the United States Naval Academy. Dr. Aaron Smith, Director of Musical Activities at the USNA, is an accomplished musician in his own right, and was kind enough to answer a few questions for WorldStrides about his career and the USNA’s musical performances.
WorldStrides: At what age did music become a significant part of your life?
Aaron Smith: As with so many for whom music becomes a significant element in their life, it was present and important to me from the very beginning. As early as I can remember, I always had a deep connection to music – in every genre: classical, jazz, musical theatre, etc. While many of my friends played sports, I always seemed drawn to practice and perform music – it was just fun.
WS: Where did you receive your formal training?
AS: I sang in choirs my entire life, from age 4 on; studied piano from an early age, ultimately leading to an undergraduate degree in Choral Music from the University of Texas, a Master of Music (with Honors and Distinction) from Westminster Choir College, and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from SUNY Stony Brook. I am a fully bona fide choral nerd.
WS: Where did you teach before the Naval Academy?
AS: Prior to the Naval Academy, I had the pleasure of being a very active professional musician in New York City, working with the full spectrum from advanced avocational singers to the world’s finest professional musicians, performing with the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the American Boychoir, the Kronos Quartet, and dozens of other fine ensembles.
WS: What is unique about the music program at the Naval Academy?
AS: The most unique thing about the music program at the Naval Academy is that none of the participants are here to study music or become a musician by vocation. Instead, they are all entering the Naval Service to become officers in the Navy or Marine Corps. We do not recruit any musicians, nor do we teach any music classes. But the beautiful part is that with intelligent people, music seems to be an inherent ability. I am always amazed with the talent level of our midshipmen. They are fast, flexible, and able to absorb copious amounts of music in an extremely short amount of time. And they perform incredibly well.
In a single year, Music Department ensembles will perform for tens of thousands of concert attendees at home, throughout the nation, and around the world. An estimated 150,000 people will see a live performance – millions on television. As ambassadors for the Naval Academy, the choirs and instrumentalists perform for a wide variety of audiences. Attendees annually include the President of the United States, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of the Navy, the Chief of Naval Operations, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, members of Congress, world leaders, and the public-at-large.
For the Midshipmen, the various music ensembles provide an invaluable resource during their evolution to become future leaders in the Armed Forces and beyond. In addition to being exposed to military and world leaders, Midshipmen gain strength and confidence by performing for senior officers and their classmates. They are continually taught to strive to work together as an ensemble to create something that is greater than themselves. They are taught to embrace the finest qualities the nation strives to engender in its own future leaders. It is with honor, pride and distinction that the Music Department represents the United States, the Navy, and the Naval Academy.
WS: What kind of outreach programs do you use to reach high school groups and directors?
AS: Music is truly a universal language – and can be a great tool for breaking through barriers. Our ensembles tour extensively and perform in schools throughout the nation. We tailor our programs to students, exposing them to incredible music while having a ton of fun along the way. Additionally, we provide several opportunities for high schools to attend performances at the Naval Academy, perhaps hear an organ demonstration on one of the nation’s finest instruments, and interact with midshipmen on a one-on-one basis. Our programs are filled with variety and humor, and when delivered by those in uniform who will be stepping into harm’s way, can be extremely powerful.
WS: What are the benefits to a high school group attending an event at Naval Academy?
AS: Students attending performances at the Naval Academy will be exposed to interesting and fun programs performed at an incredibly high level. They will see role-models just a year or two older than themselves having fun singing. They will be able to see themselves in the performers in a college environment.
Interested in traveling to our Annapolis Exhibition Music Festival? Learn more!