Thomas Smith has led the music ministry at Providence Baptist Church in Opelika for 48 years, but recently he marked the half-century milestone of another stop on his musical journey, the formation of the Auburn University Singers.
As a young professor at Auburn University in 1972, Smith organized the Singers. Different from other choral groups, the Singers used choreography and included pop and musical theatre in their performances. They also took their music on the road to other cities and countries.
On March 20, more than 300 former students returned to Auburn’s campus to present a 50th anniversary concert at the Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center. And they brought their children and grandchildren to fill the audience. With only one day of preparation, they presented a concert and joined with current Singers for a number.
Since its organization in 1972, the group has met for a reunion every five years.
“Auburn alumni have a bond that is difficult to describe,” Smith explained. “We are like family. We are there for each other in times of happiness and in not-so-good times. With 2022 being 50 years since being organized, this was especially an important celebration.”
Smith’s wife, Gayle, worked along with her husband, sewing costumes and traveling. It was a family affair, as their two children came along on road trips. Of course when they entered Auburn, the junior Smiths joined the Singers.
Smith, who retired from the university in 2006, continues to be active with the group and part of the Auburn family.
“One of the selections on the program each year is, ‘What Would I Do Without My Music,’” said Lara Hejazen, a senior in early childhood education and president of the Auburn University Singers.
When possible, Smith returns for one of the shows and conducts the group each time the piece is performed.
Smith is quick to give credit to Dale Farmer, current Singers’ conductor and an instructor in the university’s music department. Farmer is a founding student member of the Singers and was an active member of the group. He is continuing the rich tradition, keeping the well-established family feeling of the group, Smith said.
Connected by music
Reunions help with that, as does another important aspect of being a Singer — travel. In 1974, the group spent three weeks in Romania. In 1979, the Singers served as Friendship Ambassadors to Poland and the former Soviet Union. They also toured Western Europe, England and Ireland. Smith wanted an international cultural experience for his students.
“Music itself brings people together,” Smith said. “They bring joy to others. Music is so connected to the heart and soul.”
Mary Cam Burg, a freshman in English professional and public writing, agreed.
“Despite all the differences among the generations of Singers, the music remains the same and connects us in such a unique and powerful way,” Burg said.
Former Singer Kenneth Adams said, “There really are no words to properly articulate what the group means to me. What an amazing legacy and family that has been built based on the vision of Dr. Thomas R. Smith and carried on by Dr. Dale Farmer.
“This group is a true mark of the ‘Auburn Creed,’ and the thing I’m most appreciative of is the values that this group instills and the lifelong friendships that were born out of our time together. I will forever be proud to be an AU Singer!”
Smith believes the secret to the success of the group is sharing.
“The Singers share their gifts with others and share with the audience. They bring joy to others. It’s such a wholesome atmosphere. We are indeed a family!”