When composing music, Smith is driven by the text, passionately believing that the music serves the liturgy, not the other way around
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WATERFORD — Tim Smith, music director at Our Lady of the Lakes Parish in Waterford, will tell you that he is a composer first, and a musician second.
Smith has been a liturgical musician in the Archdiocese of Detroit since 1989, serving first at St. Mary of the Hills in Rochester Hills before moving to Our Lady of the Lakes 10 years ago.
Starting in 1996, however, Smith found himself able to reach a larger audience when he became affiliated with Oregon Catholic Press one of the largest publishers of Catholic liturgical music in the country. Since then, he’s released seven albums under OCP’s label.
In 2016, Smith embarked on a project to compose responsorial Psalms and Gospel acclamations for the entirety of the liturgical year. The project, called “Forever I Will Sing,” has since been expanded, adding metered editions for Sunday Mass and holy days of obligation.
The metered versions will be available in three different forms: a keyboard edition, guitar and vocal edition, and a classic chant version.
“Each verse is individually written out, and it is driven by the rhythm of the text,” Smith told Detroit Catholic. “What’s unique about this is the language dictates the rhythm of the melody.”
Smith’s main goal with the project is to provide music directors with a resource to easily learn and use the Psalms. He’s created 90 videos that include both the music and the score, which scrolls along with the screen in real time with the track. Cantors can access this resource for free and learn the song for that week’s liturgy.
Like with “Forever I Will Sing,” Smith’s philosophy when composing is to allow the music to be driven by the text. He tries to respond to the organic rhythm of the text to create a melody rather than imposing his own ideas. Smith describes his approach to music in general as “eclectic.”
“With liturgical music, I try to use contemporary and traditional elements,” Smith said. “Those labels can sometimes be problematic. When we hear the word contemporary, praise and worship, organ, hymn choir, etc., we put up walls based on our associations. As a composer, what I have tried to do when I write music over the past 30 years is to break down those walls, because the major elements of music are like the periodic table; it’s all there, and it is available to us all.”
Smith’s musical history goes back to when he was 5 years old.
“I played accordion as a little kid when I was 5, the organ at 13,” Smith said. “I got a gig at Our Lady of Refuge (in Orchard Lake) to play the basement, overflow Mass, and I did that through high school. I pretty much played the same four songs for the first few months because it is was all I could come up with,” he added with a laugh.
From there, Smith went on to get his music degree from Michigan State University and then a master’s in musical composition from Oakland University.
In high school, he wanted to be like Bob Dylan, but as he got older, he realized he had a calling to liturgical music and Church music ministry. He hopes to always construct melodies that will serve as a vehicle to sing God’s praises and be moved.
“Music is a means to that end, not the end in itself,” Smith said. “I didn’t understand that when I was younger; it was all about the music when I was younger. The cool thing about liturgical music is it puts the music in a servant’s role. I do not mean to minimize the beauty of the music, but I do think the higher calling of liturgical music is to advance participation and also maybe a little glimpse of the divine.”
Ever humble, Smith doesn’t consider his music to be about him; he jokingly calls himself the “UPS man” who simply delivers the goods.
“It’s not about me; it’s about what I deliver,” Smith said. “And that is what music should be; music should deliver the goods. A good melody, a good song setting should deliver the song so people are able to understand it and so that people are moved by the melody that is carrying that song. What is really the most special is the scriptural content of the song.”
To access “Forever I Will Sing,” visit https://timothyrsmith.com.