Zach Steensma-Staff Writer
This year, Dordt College welcomes Ryan Smit to the Music Department as the new Director of Choral Activities. Diamond staff took the opportunity to sit down with Prof Smit and ask him a few questions.
Q: First, just a little background about you: where are you from? Where have you been?
A: I grew up in Manhattan, MT, and went through all 13 years of school at Manhattan Christian School in Churchill, MT. I attended Dordt College from 1995-1999 and received a degree in Choral and Instrumental Music Education, then went to Arizona State University for a Master’s degree in Choral Music Education. After the master’s degree, I taught for four years at a large public high school (Mountain Ridge High School in Glendale, AZ). While I was in the Phoenix area I also sang with the Phoenix Chorale and directed the church choir at Phoenix CRC. Both of my children were also born in Arizona (Caleb and Emilyn).
We moved to Lynden, Washington in 2005, where I taught 7th-12th choir at Lynden Christian High School for the last 12 years. I also directed church and community choirs and was the music director for the high school musicals at Lynden Christian.
Q: When did you decide you wanted to be a music teacher?
A: My “aha” moment was singing in my first All-State choir in Montana as a high school student. I attended a very small school, so until that first All-State experience I had not realized what was truly possible when you gather a group of committed singers together to make music. After that, I had the opportunity to do some guest directing of a local men’s chorus and really enjoyed doing that. When I came to Dordt, I was going to be either a journalist or a music teacher, and the more I got involved in the music department the more I grew to love the idea of teaching music. During my second year at Dordt, I had the opportunity to direct the church choir at First CRC [of] Sioux Center. This was my first “real” choir job, and it went so well I knew that I needed to stay in the field of choral music for the rest of my life.
Q: What brought you back to Dordt? What has (and hasn’t) changed since you were a student here?
A: I decided to return to Dordt because I believe in the mission of the college to equip students to be a Christian influence in their spheres of work, family and community. I also respected and loved the tradition of great choral music here (in large part because I was once a part of it). I also came to Dordt because after teaching many years at the middle and high school level, I was ready for the new challenge of conducting a higher level college program.
The campus has changed in many ways: new buildings, new landscaping, new dorms. Many of the professors have changed as well, though I recognize a few faces here and there. The commitment to a Christian college education and worldview has not changed. Another thing that has not changed is the kindness and community among students and faculty. Dordt is still a wonderful welcoming community, and there is so much happening here that I believe is honoring to God. It is an amazing place to be!
Q: Any hobbies outside of music?
A: To stay in shape, I like to run 2-3 times a week, hike in the mountains (though I won’t be able to hike quite as much here as I did in Washington), and play racquetball. For some brain leisure I like playing strategic board games.
Q: By popular demand: what are your favorite musicals?
A: Tough choice. Les Miserables for the themes and story, West Side Story for the musical genius of Leonard Bernstein, and Wicked for the sheer entertainment value.