It occurred to me when reviewing hymns to play for preludes at Rocheport Christian Church that so many of the arrangers are women. Why not investigate? I learned that most are also composers. Gail Smith is one of them. Gail was born in 1943 in Bridgeport, Connecticut where her father, Carl Johnson, sang tenor in the church choir and her mother, Ethel, played the piano. Gail earned her BFA degree from Florida Atlantic University, did graduate work at Westminster Choir College and has done extensive research in Berlin at the Mendelssohn Archives. For many years, she was the pianist of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale and taught piano for people from ages 3 to 96. May we all be so full of life and open to learning as her 96 year old student! She is active in the National League of American Pen Women, ASCAP and the Music Teachers National Association. Her original compositions include many piano solos, choral works, and vocal solos. This musically versatile woman has authored books about piano improvisation, piano methods, and authored Four Centuries of Women Composers, Women Composers in History, and The Life and Music of Fanny Mendelssohn. As you can guess, she is interested in the history of women composers, though her interest obviously goes beyond hymnists. In her concerts, she has portrayed Fanny Mendelssohn and Anna Magdalena Bach. That’s immersing oneself in ones work! One of her trademarks is piano palindromes, which can be played backwards or forwards and sound the same and can be found in her book Palindromes. The creativity and concentration needed to do that is beyond my grasp.
But I am most acquainted with her arrangements of hymns. In particular, I have enjoyed her arrangements of women-written hymns such as “Beyond the Sunset”, “Open My Eyes, That I May See” “Moment by Moment” and “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”. None were palindromes, but they were all beautiful.