Music has been a lifetime of enjoyment for Manistee’s Joy Smith

MANISTEE — Joy Smith’s career in music started from an early age.

For Manistee musician, and band and choir director Smith, it came simply from being born into a family that loved performing and listening to music. Smith said she was surrounded by music starting in her early youth.

“I got started because of being raised in a household where we sang a lot,” said Smith. “We sang in the car driving to Detroit to see my grandma and my sister was actually a vocal major, so there was lots of music in my young life.”

Smith said even though her father didn’t play any instruments, he was always playing classic music on the stereo.


“So I was getting it on all sides and it was just a part of our home life,” Smith said. “And because my sister majored in music we got a piano when I was 4 years old. She was taking piano lessons, so I started playing the piano because I heard her playing it.”

That home life centered around music was the perfect place to develop as a musician, according to Smith. She said her dream as a child was to learn how to play the xylophone, but the family didn’t have one so when she signed up for band in school it was her instrument of choice.

“I wanted to play the xylophone, but the instrument I ended up playing more was the marimba,” Smith said. “I have a master’s degree playing the marimba and last year gave a recital at Guardian Angels Church. It’s really a beautiful sounding instrument, but you really have to be dedicated to be any good at it.”

Smith said she owes a great deal of gratitude to her parents and the sacrifices they made so she could get the proper training to have a life in music.

“I am really thankful my parents and schools gave me musical experiences,” said Smith. “We have better quality of life because of music and it can speak to you and make you feel better every day of your life.”

It was that love of music that eventually drew her to the line of work that she does to this day.

“Being a percussionist it made me realize I wanted to be a band director after growing up,” she said. “That was when I started learning to play all the other instruments because if you are going to be a band director you should know how to play the instruments.”

She learned how to play all the brass instruments in high school and then after going to college they taught her to play the woodwind instruments.

“It’s a lot easier to teach kids how to play an instrument if you know how to play it yourself,” Smith said.

Over the years, Smith has worked as a band director in several locations including starting at her alma mater, Spring Lake High School before returning to college to acquire her master’s degree. That was followed by a stint as an elementary band teacher in Muskegon Public Schools for several years.

She then moved to the Manistee area where she taught at the Manistee Area Public Schools, Manistee Catholic Central and Onekama Consolidated Schools. Overall, she has taught for nearly 30 years.

Smith said wherever she has lived, she has been active in church music both from a vocal and instrument perspective. It is something that stretches back to when she was only about 12 years old in the youth choir.

“Church is one of the few places where we really sing anymore,” she said. “It used to be we would sing all the time whenever we got together, but because we have recorded music it’s something we don’t do anymore as it’s easier to push a button to get music.”

Over the years she has also worked with choir and music at the Manistee United Methodist Church where she is a member in various capacities.

One of the vocal programs she is proud to have directed is the Manistee-Benzie Children’s Chorus. The group has been on hiatus, but will pick up again in the near future.

“We are very blessed to have it and I have directed it for seven or eight years,” said Smith. “The group is about 16 years old. Now that COVID has gone down it will pick up again next spring.”

Smith said it is important for people to have music in their lives.

“When you have music in your lives it’s easier to find happiness in your life on a day-to-day basis,” she said.

A group she helped start that has played for many years prior to the Victorian Sleighbell Parade is the In Vogue Brass Ensemble.

“That is a group I put together with friends who played brass instruments and we also used to play for Choral Society Concerts, and last December we played for an event at the former Guardian Angels Church,” Smith said. “The name came from when we played in front of the Vogue Theater in our first Sleighbell performance.”

When it comes to her personal preferences in music, Smith said it varies. Some of her favorites come from the music of her heritage, having a Welsh and Irish background.

“I like to direct anything that is beautiful and a lot of British band and choir music,” she said. “I enjoy listening to 1970s rock and roll music, Celtic, folk, classical and whatever music speaks to me.”

Smith said she gets a lot out of directing and performing music.

“One is an experience of beauty and depending upon what you are playing it can be a spiritual connection,” Smith said. “The great thrill of music is in connecting with our spirit.”

That love of music started at a very early age and is something Smith hopes to continue for the rest of her life.

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