Motivated by her tremendous love of music, Marilynn J. Smiley has dedicated more than 60 years to advancing the field. She started as a public school music teacher in Indiana in 1954 and joined the staff of the Music Department at the State University of New York at Oswego in 1961. Over the years, she served the institution as a distinguished teaching professor and as a department chair, and was responsible for music history and literature courses for all eras and at all levels. Dr. Smiley’s area of expertise ranged from ancient Greek to current music history and literature, which made her an invaluable resource for students. One of her favorite parts of the job was presenting subjects to students and watching them respond with their own concepts and ideas. She was also proud of having her department accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music and of creating a diverse curriculum. In 2014, however, she accepted the distinguished title of professor emeritus.
Besides teaching, Dr. Smiley was involved at the school through committees like the Library Council, the Graduate Council, the Women’s Caucus, the Task Force on the Future, and the Women’s Studies Advisory Board, and as the advisor of both Mu Beta Psi and Vega, the Junior and Senior Women’s Honor Society. She also conducted a great deal of scholarly research through grants obtained from the SUNY Research Foundation and the National Endowment for Humanities. Her main focus was Renaissance music and various types of American music, as well as women’s studies. Dr. Smiley loved the satisfaction of discovering new ideas, concepts, and correlations, all of which brought a greater understanding to her field. She shared her findings with her peers by writing articles for professional journals and by presenting papers at several musicology conferences of the American Musicological Society and the Society for American Music.
Dr. Smiley prepared for her endeavors by earning a PhD from the University of Illinois in 1970, a Master of Music from Northwestern University in 1958, and a Bachelor of Science from Ball State University in 1954. Her doctoral dissertation was titled, “The Renaissance Organ Magnificat,” and her master’s thesis was titled, “The Recorder Versus the Transverse Flute from 1700-1750.” She furthered her education with a certification from Ecoles d’Art Americaines in France, where she studied under the legendary musician Nadia Boulanger.
Looking to the future, Dr. Smiley hopes to continue work on her ongoing research projects, which includes research into music in Oswego in the 19th century. Most notably, she has done significant research into the music of Holocaust refugees at Fort Ontario in Oswego, helping to shed light on then-President Roosevelt’s only acknowledgment of the Holocaust. This work led to the discovery of “The Golden Cage,” an operetta by Charles Abeles, an Austrian composer, and Miriam Sommerburg, a German artist and author, who lived at the Fort Ontario refugee shelter from 1944 to 1946. The operetta was written in 1945 and premiered on New Year’s Eve of that year.
In November of 2022, “The Golden Cage” will be performed on stage for the first time in over 50 years by the Oswego Opera Theater, where Dr. Smiley serves as president of the board of directors. She is also currently responsible for publicity and further research into the operetta, and she maintains contact with the nephew of composer Charles Abeles, who is living in Germany. Furthermore, Dr. Smiley has spent the last 10 years giving lectures on the musical activities of the refugees that lived at Fort Ontario.
When Dr. Smiley isn’t working, she enjoys traveling and being active in her community. She is a member of the Oswego County Historical Society, the H. Lee White Maritime Museum, the Alpha Iota chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma, the Safe Haven Society, and the Oswego Opera Theater. Additionally, Dr. Smiley is the co-president of the Oswego branch of the American Association of University Women.