Kile Smith (b. 1956). Symphony: Lumen ad revelationem (2002)

Listen on SoundCloud Listen on Spotify

For my final Fleisher Discoveries podcast, my Symphony. I’ve gotten so busy with composing that, as much as I love the podcast, I had to clear the decks. The Symphony is unusual (especially the first movement), and I don’t write now the way I did when I was 38, but I do like it. Also, it supplied the theme music for Fleisher Discoveries.

Hi everybody, I’m Kile Smith, and welcome to Fleisher Discoveries. Fleisher Discoveries is a podcast from the Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music in the Free Library of Philadelphia. Gary Galván is curator of the Fleisher Collection.

In Fleisher Discoveries, we uncover the unknown, rediscover the little-known, and take a fresh look at some of the remarkable treasures housed in the Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music in the Free Library of Philadelphia. The Fleisher Collection is the largest lending library of orchestral performance material in the world. There’s a new Fleisher Discoveries podcast up every month on SoundCloud and on Spotify; just search “Fleisher Discoveries” and find every one of our podcasts.

Last month I let you know that this month’s podcast would be my last podcast, and so it is. My reason is as true this month as last month, that I’ve simply gotten so busy with composing that, as much as I love putting together Fleisher Discoveries, something had to give. I have commissions, many of them large ones, strung together for the next year or so, and I’ll get them all finished, but only, I believe, if I clear the decks.

I’ve been clearing the decks for a while now, since 2011 when I gave up being Curator at the Fleisher Collection to spend more time composing. I had been at Fleisher for 30 years, since 1981, the last 18 as curator. Jack Moore and I began Fleisher Discoveries on radio station WRTI in Philadelphia in October of 2002, concocting the idea over lunch at the Rose Tattoo restaurant behind the Free Library. We had a great time with our one-hour radio shows, airing the first Saturday of the month, Jack and I playing music and yakking about it.

When I left Fleisher in 2011, though, both the Free Library and WRTI wanted the show to continue, so I continued going into the station to record the show. This worked out well because WRTI kept asking me to take on more and more responsibilities there. That continued until 2017, when I walked away from the station to, again, have more time to compose. It had gotten to the point where I was full-time at WRTI, I had already left one full-time job, Fleisher, to compose more, and the composing had become even busier in those intervening years.

Well, with me gone from the station and Jack retiring the following year, the radio show became a podcast in 2018 at the encouragement of Fleisher’s curator Gary Galván. It was his vision that kept it going from then until now. Plus, he had begun the process of digitizing hundreds of old recordings in the Fleisher archives, and this provided us with unique source material for shows. It has been great working with Gary all these years on Discoveries.

When I told Gary that I wanted to bow out, he said that for my last show, I needed to play some of my own music. I’d only done this once before, in the fifth year of the radio show. So I looked over the works of mine in the Fleisher Collection, and the “bang” I’ve chosen to go out on is my first and so far only symphony, composed back when I was all of 38 years old.

I think of it as a youthful work, although 38 is nigh on to middle age. Mozart, Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Gershwin were dead by 38. I’d written a good deal of orchestral music by then, but this was my first crack at a symphony. I was thrilled to be asked for this by Donald Spieth, the director of the Lehigh Valley Chamber Orchestra. Sadly, both he and the orchestra are gone, Lehigh Valley for many years, and Don, only in September of 2023 at age 81. They were both wonderful and are both sorely missed. Lehigh Valley was a crackerjack professional ensemble, performing mostly in Muhlenberg College in Allentown.

Don was everything you could want in a conductor. An excellent trumpet player, he knew players and playing. He was smart, efficient, profoundly musical, and prepared—he knew your score better than you did. He was never rattled, he never raised his voice, he was self-deprecating, was respectful to everyone and always had a twinkle in his eye.

He gave over at least one slot every season to a Pennsylvania composer, and in 1995 they performed my Three Dances. After that, they brought me up every season for pre-concert lectures, particularly for new pieces where I’d often interview the composer. A few years later they commissioned me for another work, and so in 2002 came my Symphony.

It will take some explanation, and believe me, I don’t like explaining music, but the piece is quite unusual in concept. The ideas behind it I thought you might find of interest. [Complete program notes are here.]

The September 11th, 2001 attack on the Twin Towers caused many artists to look to their fundamental beliefs. I looked to the liturgy of my church. Very close to the premiere of the Symphony was the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord, February 2nd. I looked at the texts for that day, and used three for the three movements.

From the Gospel of Luke, the second chapter, is the story of Simeon, the old man looking “for the consolation of Israel,” who, seeing the baby Jesus brought to the Temple, prophesies this, “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.” “A light of revelation” is where the Symphony’s subtitle comes from, “Lumen ad revelationem.” I took the entire passage, in Latin, and converted the words and letters into notes. This became the musical material I used. Nothing is sung, only instruments are used in the Symphony, but the music literally follows the text. Those bass drum and cymbal crashes you’ll hear, sometimes loud, sometimes soft, are the punctuation from the text.

For the second movement, I chose two verses from the Psalm for the day, Psalm 84: “Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in thy house; they will still be praising thee.” I didn’t go the letters-to-notes transliteration route here, but rather set the text in Latin as if it were being sung. There are 12 pitches in the octave; I used six for the first section and the remaining six for the second section, then repeated the first section. It’s hardly 12-tone music, but is about as 12-tone as you’ll ever find in my music.

The third movement is the rest of Psalm 84, except that the musical setting is of the English text. The word “Selah” is found in this and other Psalms. Scholars think that it is a break or a musical instruction to the original Temple singers. Where Selah is, I insert a solo for the one percussionist. The movement begins with its own antiphon, verse 11: “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.” Listeners to Fleisher Discoveries from 2002, the year not only of this Symphony but also the beginning of this show on the radio, will recognize this antiphon as our theme music.

So, on Fleisher Discoveries, my Symphony: Lumen ad revelationem. It’s the live premiere performance from February 2002, Donald Spieth conducting the Lehigh Valley Chamber Orchestra.

[Kile Smith (b. 1956). Symphony: Lumen ad revelationem (2002)]

The year was 2002, the month was February, the place was Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and that was Donald Spieth leading the Lehigh Valley Chamber Orchestra in my Symphony: Lumen ad revelationem. This is Fleisher Discoveries, and I’m Kile Smith.

I hope you enjoyed it, and I’m aware of a question or two you may have. With all my rigamarole about turning letters into pitches, and setting words to music but the words aren’t sung, you might be asking, “What’s the point?” After all, music is music, so if I don’t hear the words, why bother with all that tedious process?

It’s a good question, and all I can do to try to answer is to compare what I did here—and I don’t do the letter transliteration anymore—to compare that to any other work that has a story behind it. Think of Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture or Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique or Rimsky- Korsakov’s Scheherazade, all works with stories or an exact place behind them. Can we appreciate them as just music? Yes, I believe music must work as music or it has failed to accomplish what only music can do. But, do the stories help? I think the answer also is Yes.

How that works, I’m not really sure, but I don’t believe music is either/or. I think we also make those same non-musical leaps while we’re listening to sonatas or fugues or any other music with no “stories” behind them. In any case, I do. Whether our brains and our souls need to do that or what the process is, it seems to me that the gap between so-called pure music and programmatic music isn’t as wide as we think it is, if there’s a gap at all.

The Fleisher Collection is on Facebook, and I’m on Facebook, so you can like us there. I’m also on Twitter, @KileSmithMusic, and on Instagram I’m kilesmithmusic. Drop me a line at

So, this is my last Fleisher Discoveries podcast. I want to thank everyone who wrote in after last month’s Brahms Academic Festival Overture show, who thanked me, who told me how much it’s meant to hear or read my essays. Believe me, I enjoyed every minute of it and I’ve learned so much.

I want to thank the Free Library of Philadelphia—within whose walls I worked for 30 years!— for supporting this program from the beginning, on radio and on podcast, a unique way to highlight the incredible archives and lending library that is the Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music. There is nothing quite like it in the world. And I want to thank Gary Galván, curator of the Fleisher Collection. He’s been a wonderful leader for the Collection, with energy and vision, and I look forward to Fleisher’s future!

And do remember that all of our podcasts are available all of the time, so do check us out anytime for what we hope are the enlightening stories and wonderful pieces we uncover for every show.

And thanks for joining me on Fleisher Discoveries, a podcast produced by the Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music at the Free Library of Philadelphia. Just search “Fleisher Discoveries on Spotify and SoundCloud, and there we are. Gary Galván is curator of the Fleisher Collection, and I’m Kile Smith.