This Floating World on Now Is the Time


Elena Ruehr’s CD, including The Law of Floating Objects

Islands and dances and flutes seem to float on Now Is the Time, Saturday, July 19th at 9 pm at and WRTI-HD2. Haiku of Basho inspire Edie Hill’s This Floating World for solo flute; Elena Ruehr’s The Law of Floating Objects is for one flutist multiplied many times. An excerpt from A Floating Island is Matthew Greenbaum’s chamber opera on an episode from Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, where some are so lost in thought they don’t see what’s right in front of them.

The Habanera makes us think of Cuba and islands (okay, it’s a stretch), and we find one in 5 Pages from John’s Book of Alleged Dances by John Adams. Robert Ackerman improvises Havana Special, clarinet and bass, and there’s just enough time for an Ackerman encore, Scena.

from Robert Ackerman: Scena 

Edie Hill: This Floating World
John Adams: 5 Pages from John’s Book of Alleged Dances
Matthew Greenbaum: from A Floating Island
Robert Ackerman: Havana Special
Elena Ruehr: The Law of Floating Objects
Robert Ackerman: Scena

Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI! Every Saturday night at 9 Eastern, Kile Smith brings you Now Is the Time, all styles of contemporary concert music by living American composers on WRTI’s all-classical stream. Just go to and click on the Listen: Classical button at the top of any page. In the Philadelphia area with an HD radio? Dial us up at 90.1 FM-HD2, or find all the frequencies here, from the Jersey Shore to the Poconos to Harrisburg to Delaware.

Are you famous?

[First published in the Broad Street Review, 15 July 2014. Reprinted by permission.]


© 1999 Warner Bros. Entertainment

The teacher introduced me to his fourth- and fifth-graders, the Jenks Arts & Music (JAM) Class at the Jenks School in Chestnut Hill. I’m composing something for them to sing with the Crossing next year, on a powerful poem by Philadelphian Ryan Eckes. [I wrote about this here, here, and here.]

Today was get-to-know-the-composer day, so I talked about what a composer does, and about how I sang in choirs, too, when I was their age. I played a short work of mine from a CD, and told them how to hear the music that’s already inside of words. To open them up to this, we improvised music on the text “I’m happy to be in JAM Class.” During this, one of the students pointed, hopefully, to a boxful of maracas. Well, I love a boxful of maracas as much as anyone, so we used those, too.

Things were going well; they were engaged. A hand shot up during question time. Looking at the eager young man, I said, “Sure! Go ahead,” feeling good, ready for anything.

“Are you famous?”

I’ll try to describe the next few milliseconds to you, since they lasted a while. They were like… well, do you know that scene in The Matrix, I don’t know which Matrix, but it was when one of the Matrix guys—by the way, are the Matrix guys the stars, or are the Matrix guys the ones trying to kill the stars?—well, it doesn’t matter, the one in black—okay, they’re all in black; the one in black leather, I don’t know if that helps… wait, it was the girl—that scene when the girl was falling out of the window and dropping backward and looking up and the bad guy, the one in the black suit and tie—okay, they all wear black suits and ties, but one of them—he’s chasing or falling after her and looking down and shooting, they’re both shooting, actually, but the bullets, they look like they’re burrowing through jello or smoke, and, sure, the bullets are going fast enough, but not bullet-fast and so she, the girl, can twist out of the way and avoid the bullets?—only it’s not that part, it’s immediately after that part, in JAM class, standing in front of the fourth- or fifth-grader who asks, “Are you famous?,” it’s after the part when the bullets miss, it’s right at that part when one of the bullets hits.

The milliseconds were like that, is what I’m trying to say.

First, jaundiced realism came to mind: “If you have to ask, then no”; then, diplomacy: “Well, in some circles…”; then, defensiveness: “Even my best-known colleagues you wouldn’t…”; and then, anti-ballistic missile countermeasures, “How famous are you?”


But what I replied—and I remember this exactly—was, “Well,” followed by nothing for a half-second, enough time for the teacher to jump in—by the way, I love teachers—to jump in and say that being famous just means that you’re on TV, and that if you go by TV, then Beethoven and Mozart weren’t famous, and that there are a lot more important things in life than what’s on TV. The student seemed to take his point. I took it, too, and was grateful for the lifeline.

But he hadn’t answered the question. Neither had I, and I mention it because of a nagging point. The point isn’t that Beethoven and Mozart, in fact, were famous. The point isn’t even that only a child would ask “Are you famous?” The point is that although a grown-up doesn’t ask “Are you famous?,” a grown-up always wants to know.

It’s just true. All artists put in their bios and press releases the names of musicians or ensembles or reviewers or awards or magazines they hope you know. The more famous the name, the closer to the top it goes. “This,” we say to the unasked question, “is how famous.”

It’s the same in any field. We scan a bio or press release, looking for names we know. We’re looking, in fact, for fame.

Television may decide it for us, or anything else. On the last day of my janitor job before leaving for college, old George said to me, “So, Professor” (he called me that because I was going to college), “So, Professor, I guess one day you’ll be a famous composer.” “Oh I don’t know,” I quipped, “but if I am, I’ll let you know.”

He looked at me sideways. “If you are, you won’t have to. I read the paper.”

Who decides?

Which lays bare the folly of chasing fame. Nobody defines it for themselves. George and the JAM Class will define my fame however they wish. If they wish. How famous I am is entirely up to them. If I have fame, any at all, they give it to me. Or, as David Bowie sings: “Fame, what you need you have to borrow.”

Better, then, not to need it.

Better to let others ask—and answer—the question for themselves. Someone was putting together a list of American composers and wondered on Facebook if there were any names beginning with X. “If anyone knows, Kile will,” a friend posted. I doubted that, but the friend surmised that from my new-music radio show and from having been at the Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music, I must know lots of composer names. And I do.

I went to the list, someone’s matrix of fame, and it was huge: living and dead American composers, names I knew, some I didn’t, friends, acquaintances, professors, lots of professors. I dropped to the end; sure enough, nobody under X. Then, I asked myself the question. I scrolled up to S.

A smile crept across my face as I nodded. Serves me right for asking. My name wasn’t there.

Another composer wrote about me…

MotorbikeI had no idea that this was coming:

…finding Kile’s music is an oasis,

and other too incredibly kind words, and from a composer colleague. He tells one bald-faced lie, however (it has to do with the number of commissions), but I like the enthusiasm!

Thank you, Kurt Knecht.

By the way, that second video in the “Kile Smith” playlist? First of all, I had no idea I had a playlist (again, with the no idea), but second of all, the guy on the motorbike, that’s not me.

But seriously, I’m touched by this. Kind words from a fellow composer are like rain in the desert, someone once told me.

Herr Christ, der einig Gotts Sohn, with the Aestas Consort

HerrChristwEnglishp1My friends from the Chicago-area choir Aestas Consort put up this YouTube montage with the a capella chorus from Vespers, Herr Christ, der einig Gotts Sohn (Lord Christ, the only Son of God). This is the one that splits from four to eight to 16 voices and back.

They sound gorgeous! Maurice Boyer conducts; this was recorded at Grace Lutheran Church, River Forest. Thank you, Steven, Levi, Maurice, and everybody!

I’ve gone ahead and made a German/English edition of this, since I had translated it for the program notes. Yes, you could sing this in English if you liked! Click on the page at the left for a look-see, and if you want to see all of it, just let me know!

Symphony Under the Stars, Gold and Silver, announced in Helena


photo: Eliza Wiley, Independent Record

My new orchestral work Gold and Silver got a shout-out as Helena Symphony music director Allan R. Scott met with Helena mayor Jim Smith and others for the Symphony Under the Stars announcement yesterday. Here’s the complete article in Helena’s Independent Record. The concert is 8:30 p.m. Saturday, July 19, on the grounds of Carroll College.

“Gold and Silver” is Oro y Plata, the Montana state motto. A new poster (pictured, left), symbolizes a fire tower, symbol of Helena. There will be a canned-food drive at this free concert; last year they collected over 15,000 pounds.

The program includes lots of Disney movie scores. They’re expecting upwards of 16,000 people to show up for this free concert. Reserved seats are already sold out. There will be fireworks. They play Gold and Silver right before the fireworks.

No pressure!


Helena Symphony Composer in Residence

HelenaSymLogoThe Helena Symphony proudly announces the appointment of Kile Smith as Composer in Residence for the 2014-2015 Season. In addition to performing works by Mr. Smith, the Helena Symphony has commissioned him to compose two works celebrating the 150th birthday of the City of Helena and the 60th anniversary of the Helena Symphony.

The first work, Gold and Silver, will be premiered July 2014 for an audience of over 15,000 people and performed again in May 2015. The second commission, for orchestra with the internationally renowned Romanian cellist Ovidiu Marinescu, will be performed in January 2015.

In October, music director Allan R. Scott will conduct the Helena Symphony Orchestra and Chorale in Mr. Smith’s 2004 work Psalm 46, with baritone soloist Ron Loyd.

Founded in 1955, the Helena Symphony Orchestra is a 75-member regional professional orchestra in Helena, Montana, and is one of the leading symphonic organizations in the Rocky Mountain region. Noted as one of the “best small arts communities in the United States,” Helena is the Capital City of Montana.

Kile Smith lives in Philadelphia, where he composes full-time, following 18 years as Curator of the Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music. He also hosts the weekly American contemporary music radio program Now Is the Time and co-hosts the monthly Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, both on WRTI-FM and, and is a classical announcer on WRTI. He is a contributing editor to the online arts and culture magazine Broad Street Review. In addition to the Helena projects, he is composing new works for The Crossing and other ensembles.

Gold and Silver

GoldandSilverp1,jpgGold and Silver, overture for orchestra

3*223*(opt cbn)-4231-timp, 2perc (incl glock)-str. 7′

Commissioned by the Helena Symphony for its 60th anniversary, and in honor of the 150th anniversary of the City of Helena. Premiered 19 July 2014, Helena Symphony, Allan R. Scott conducting, Carroll College, Helena, Montana.

The Montana state motto is Oro y Plata, “Gold and Silver.”

(Click on the image to view or download the full score)