Thursday, December 18, 2014

Remembering John Hiltonsmith

John Hiltonsmith and his talents mean a lot to the Mid-South community, and we wanted to provide  a space for friends and fans to remember John. If you would like to contribute to this post, please leave a comment below.

He carefully replaced the broken piano string in my 1908 Steinway and told me that it was probably original, so worth preserving. John neatly bent it into a manageable size and placed it in my piano bench, along with his card noting the information. That was just a little over a year ago.

We had a dress rehearsal for our Lindenwood Christmas concert on December 6th that lasted until noon and John was there, since he was to be the sound technician for our December 7th concert. John and I talked for about 10 minutes after the rehearsal ended at noon and the conversation seemed important to me that day and stuck with me, although I couldn't say why.

I've known John for a long time and he helped me, as well as my family, many times. My son attended MUS and was fortunate to be a member of "Beg To Differ", so I knew John as his director, teacher, and mentor, as well as a fellow musician. I called on John frequently and asked if "Beg To Differ" would perform for various Symphony League events, as well as for Les Passees.  Each time John graciously agreed to perform at these events, contributing to help the organizations.  We also discussed silent auctions for the Orpheum and the Symphony League, to which he generously contributed.  He donated his time, his talent, and his services each and every time I asked.

On Saturday, December 6th, after a memorable conversation, John and I parted ways around 12:20pm.  We had things all lined out for the next day's concert and I just knew it would be a good one, especially with John's help.  Not even two hours later, I got a phone call saying that John was gone. I couldn't believe it then and I still can't today.
Suddenly I remembered the piano string and the note that John left for me in my piano bench.

That broken string, so carefully preserved by John, has taken on new meaning and importance to me since John died. It will forever remain in my piano bench, just where he meticulously put it, a dear remembrance of John. You never know when the small things will become significant. John, however, did seem to know, and I thank you, my dear friend.

-- Lura Turner, member of the Memphis Development Foundation Board of Directors

My most vivid memories of John are from high school at MUS in the '80s or with his girls getting ready for movies.

As education's VP the world has come full circle.

John popped his head inside my office (he'd been playing the organ for 10 year before I got here) and said, "Hey, Alice (knew my name), you went to Hutchison right?" "Nope St Agnes," said a sassy  26-year-old. "Mr. Hiltonsmith what are you doing here?" I'm going to play the organ for the movie,  let me introduce you to my girls....."

That day he became John - my world changed.
-- Alice Roberts, Vice President of Community & Education at the Orpheum

John Hiltonsmith and one of his singing groups, circa 1988.

I loved how cool it was to watch him come up and down from the pit playing the organ, and I loved that he always waved to the audience before descending.  The Summer Movie Series audiences LOVED watching and hearing him play – a lot of people came early to make sure that they got to see the famous organ. 

-- Christina Torres, Press Relations Manager at the Orpheum

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