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College of Arts and Humanitites Faculty Feature

Bret Smith

By: Simone Tuilaepa

May 20, 2019

Dr. Smith has been working on Central’s campus for nearly 15 years now. He is an associate professor of music education, investing a great deal of work into both the music and pedagogy sides of the program. He specializes as a string player, orchestra teacher, and conductor, which allows him to share his experience and knowledge as a cellist. Dr. Smith also works closely with graduate students of the music department. While there are between 30 and 35 summer graduate students and another ten to 15 year-round graduate students, the largest population of postbac music students are through a new partnership program that has taken off this year. The American Band College, a band focused program out of Oregon, allows for roughly 180 students to obtain their graduate degree in music education through Central Washington University. While Dr. Smith does not typically work with these students in person, he has played a major role in the development of the program since pairing with our campus.

Being raised in Ellensburg, Dr. Smith’s return to CWU in 2005 was a comfortable transition. He attended both middle school and high school in town, and mentions his first serious cello teacher being a previous professor at Central. Growing up, there were always instruments around the house. He started with piano lessons at the age of seven, moved onto the violin when he started in the local orchestra program, and then switched to the cello a year later. In middle school Dr. Smith’s interest in music began to blossom. Dr. Smith first attended school at the University of Washington, returned to Ellensburg as a postbac to add classes in order to teach, then eventually went on to obtain a Master of Music and Doctor of Philosophy in music education from the University of Michigan.

When asked what inspires his passions for what he does, Dr. Smith likes the idea of the effort he makes being helpful- that it will improve someone else’s life, save them time, and make a lasting impact. Dr. Smith is someone that takes initiative. He takes on roles knowing that they may not directly impact his line of work in music, but that there are many players and pieces necessary in order to create and sustain a functional world of academia. Similar to this, Dr. Smith also acknowledges the value of making mistakes.

He shares that there has not been a particular defining moment in his career, but talks about the natural comfort that comes with being on stage, teaching, and leading. With time, he says that you are able to let yourself make mistakes as part of both the learning and teaching process, and that vulnerability will allow you to find your own style of teaching. From this philosophy, Dr. Smith began to develop his own strategies and techniques in music, which resulted in publishing books that could assist students in the learning process, and has now expanded to his work being used at other institutions.

Dr. Smith most frequently teaches string methods, explaining that it is the material he knows the best. He talks about the good energy he feels in the Music Department, and that each one of his colleagues are individually a special part of the music programs. “When you look at how much they are getting done, it is really rather remarkable that we can produce results in terms of music and performances and scholarship that we do,” referring to the quick pace that the department works at. Looking at the College of Arts and Humanities as a whole, Dr. Smith enjoys speaking with faculty from different disciplines about their passions for humanities and art. The collaborative works of various departments are also very exciting and allow respective departments to conjoin efforts and create something amazing. Although many aspects of Dr. Smith’s life revolve around music and education, he also enjoys camping, gardening, spending time with family, and likes to read books and watch superhero movies.

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