Melba Schmidt, 95, was one of music festival’s biggest fans
April 7, 2003
he Aspen Music Festival and School has lost one of its biggest fans.
Melba Schmidt, a native of Grand Junction, attended each summer music festival in Aspen beginning with its inaugural year, 1949. She died after a stroke on March 17 at the age of 95.
A pianist who loved music from an early age, Schmidt first came to Aspen as a child with her parents. Her father, C.D. Smith, sold medicine wholesale to drugstores between Denver and Salt Lake City, and brought his family with him on trips through Glenwood Springs up to Aspen.
Schmidt’s son Ralph Schmidt said his mother once told him she got so much free ice cream from the druggists they visited that after the age of 22 she never ate ice cream again.
Melba Smith graduated from Grand Junction High School, and then studied piano pedagogy at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. She moved back to Grand Junction in 1930, married Mark Schmidt, and began teaching music theory at Mesa College in the 1940s.
When organizing the Mesa County Community Concert Association, she worked to bring many classical performers to Grand Junction, and personally entertained musicians like Itzhak Perlman and the entire Robert Shaw Chorale in her home.
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Ralph Schmidt said she was thrilled when she learned about the beginning of the Aspen Music Festival in 1949, and attended it as a representative from Grand Junction radio station KFXJ.
She never stopped attending.
“It was a way for her to keep tabs on Aspen. For us in the summers, Aspen was the cultural capital of this part of the world,” Ralph Schmidt said. “In the winters she and my father would go to Los Angeles or San Francisco to see opera, but in those days it was a three-hour drive to Aspen, and having that kind of music this close was miraculous, and she loved that.”
Mimi Teschner, director of development for the Aspen Music Festival and School, knew Schmidt through her attendance at the summer concerts.
“She was a lovely, graceful woman who exuded all of this history about Aspen and the festival – she was a fascinating and delightful woman,” Teschner said. “There can’t be many of those people [who attended the festival from its first days] left. That’s 54 years, and Melba was unique that way.”
Ralph Schmidt said his mother was a representative of the National Federation of Music Clubs for many years, and would sit in the music tent writing notes about a concert long after the audience had filed out. He said she remembered concerts according to which of the festival’s three tents she heard music in.
“She’d say that the first tent [designed by Finnish architect Eero Saarinen] would wobble in the wind,” he said. “She kept attending every summer, and she kept bumping into people she remembered from the first year. The music festival was a way for her to renew friendships over a long period of time.”
Ralph attended many of the summer festivals with his mother, both as a child and after his father passed away. He said his mother wanted to be remembered privately and requested no formal memorial service. The family – her surviving two sons and daughter, her two grandsons and two great-grandsons – ask that any donations be made to a favorite charity in her memory.
“We were fortunate to have her among our audience every year,” Teschner said. “We will certainly miss her presence – she was very special.”