Virgil Everett Smith, for 32 years a member of the music faculty at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, and a nationally renowned piano technician, died Monday, September 27th,2010, at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, Illinois, at the age of 91. He is survived by his wife, Helen Marie Felbinger Smith; his two children, Elizabeth Anne Smith Brown (married to GeneThiele), and Stephen Robert Smith (married to Linda); and his four grandchildren, Samuel Edward Brown, Kristen Ruth Smith, Kathryn Elisabeth Smith and Stephen Charles Smith.
Virgil Smith was born in 1918 in Barnes City, Iowa, and spent most of school years at the Iowa School for the Blind, where he developed his love for and abilities in music, and also learned to tune pianos. He came to Chicago to attend Moody Bible Institute, and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the American Conservatory of Music. Following brief stints on the faculties at Chicago Evangelistic Institute in Chicago and Grace Bible Institute in Omaha, he was invited to join the faculty at Moody Bible Institute by Donald Hustad, the well-known gospel composer, organist and conductor.
While at Moody, Mr. Smith served as choir director at various churches in the Chicago area. It was while conducting the choir at Galilee Baptist Church at Damen and Wellington that he met his wife, Helen, who was singing alto in the choir. In later conducting jobs, Mrs. Smith at times played the piano for choirs her husband conducted. The Smiths and their children attended Galilee for many years, where Virgil taught the adult Sunday School class. In later years, Mr. Smith worshipped at The Moody Church, and then at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Warrenville.
Over the years, Virgil Smith became an increasingly prominent piano technician. For several years he tuned for the Sunday afternoon piano series at Orchestra Hall in Chicago, and had the privilege of preparing pianos for masters including Arturo Rubinstein, Rudolf Serkin and Vladimir Ashkenazy. Mr. Smith was a proud and active member of the Piano Technicians Guild, eventually being inducted into the PTG Hall of Fame. Many piano technicians throughout the country spent time studying under Virgil Smith. Throughout recent years, he had greatly enjoyed helping lead a discussion in the PTG as to the value of aural whole note tuning, which he favored, as contrasted to machine-based tuning; his last letter on this topic is expected to be published posthumously.
Virgil Smith’s last years were spent with his wife at Windsor Park Manor in Carol Stream. There he performed classical piano concerts, taught Bible classes, and was a regular exerciser.
Virgil Smith firmly believed that he was part of God’s larger plan. He often noted that it was his visual disability that enabled him to be exposed to the world of music, which formed much of the basis for his rewarding life. Mr. Smith was one of the most positive and optimistic people on the face of the earth – he found joy in most of the aspects of his life. He regularly shared his faith with those whose lives he had the opportunity to touch.