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Remembering Robert W. Smith: A Musical Odyssey of Friendship and Mentorship

In the summer of 1997, the course of my life took an unexpected turn. At 22, I was still navigating the realms of academia, while simultaneously owning my first business. Fate brought Robert W. Smith and his family to our town, and little did I know that this chance encounter would mark the beginning of a profound journey.

Our first meetings were simple yet impactful. I vividly recall he and Susan’s young daughter, Savannah, teaching me the differences of lollipops and suckers. Little did I know that this charming encounter would be the opening act for a remarkable friendship between my family to come and my own children, where we would all share in life often.

One day, I mustered the courage to invite Robert and Susan to join me for lunch. Later, it was the summer of the 1997 Nike Tour Championship, held at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, and I had two tickets for the 18th green for Robert and Susan. I was doing live website leaderboard updates on the course championship tour. It was a gesture that would set in motion a friendship that would shape my life in countless ways.

At the time, I was steering my first business, Aquamedia, into uncharted waters, pioneering tech platforms and social media a decade ahead of Facebook’s emergence. Simultaneously, Robert was taking up the mantle as Director of Bands at Troy University after we had just had legendary Director, John M. Long retire who was actually both of our teachers. Little did I know that my role as Roberts’s first drum major would lay the foundation for an enduring bond.

This journey began with Robert stepping into the role of mentor, providing unwavering support and guidance. His presence at my concerts where I served as Director of Bands, his interactions with my students, and his tireless efforts as an adjudicator all spoke volumes about the profound influence he had on me.

Between 2000 and 2005, the connection between technology and music education took a significant turn. It was during this period that Robert, always one to embrace innovation, saw an opportunity to tap into my expertise in technology. This connection led to a pivotal moment in our collaboration. Robert invited me to join as a technology consultant with Warner Brothers Publications, a significant player in the music education realm.

Working alongside Robert and Susan, we embarked on an exciting venture, as they were creating the Music Expressions and Band Expressions curriculum. These projects not only allowed me to delve deeper into music education but also provided the chance to learn from some of the most esteemed experts in the field. This experience was instrumental in shaping my future endeavors, from my music education career to my role as a business owner in the music industry.

Robert’s foresight and mentorship didn’t just influence my professional life; they enriched every facet of my journey, instilling in me the importance of innovation, creativity, and excellence in music education.

But our connection went beyond the professional realm. Over 16 dedicated years as a music educator and later music industry business owner, Robert stood by my side. Robert and Susan and his girls were in my wedding, and with Susan, became the godparents of my children, Connor, Alexandra, and Carter. Our shared passion for deep-sea fishing forged countless memories. These trips were not just about catching fish; they were about camaraderie, shared laughter, and the art of storytelling.

In 2019, at the Midwest Clinic, a new chapter began. Robert W. Smith and I embarked on a transformative vision for music festivals. As the Founder and CEO of All National Music, my goal was to create immersive composer-based events that celebrated educational and artistic excellence. This vision brought renowned composers and conductors into the heart of the experience, and Robert’s wisdom breathed life into this endeavor.

One of our most recent booth experiences marked another chapter in our journey together. As we ventured to Chicago for the 2022 Midwest Clinic, I was filled with anticipation, for this was where I would debut my first All National Music booth at the world renowned Midwest Clinic. Robert, being the unwavering supporter he always was, stood by my side throughout this experience.

Our booths were were even connected at the entrance of the Midwest Clinic in 2022, a physical representation of the partnership we’d cultivated over the years.

Looking ahead, we’re committed to promoting Robert’s legacy through our music festivals and ensuring his memory lives on in every note played. As we continue to stand alongside students, teachers, and musicians around the world, his influence will resonate in the hearts and minds of all those who share in the beauty of music.

Our collaboration epitomized Robert’s enduring philosophy of music education – one that infused creativity, innovation, and mentorship into everything we did. As I fondly remember Robert’s indomitable spirit and character, I find comfort in these cherished memories. His legacy lives on in the music he composed, the students he inspired, and the friendships he nurtured. Farewell, dear friend, until we meet again.

I love you, my dear friend! And I wish we could do it all again and run it “one more time…”

– Doug Brasell