Kimo Smith’s Triumphant Return to the Organ

Kimo Smith at the Organ

I grew up attending the Loma Linda University Church. We attended regularly throughout my childhood and into my teen years, and I was lucky enough to experience the warmth of so many amazing men and women in search of something profound to fill their souls. My fondest memories of church include amazing professional quality music, inspired words by forward thinking pastors, and regular reminders that life is precious and one must do their best to use their talents to touch the world.

A constant part of my church experience has been the breathtaking talent of Kimo Smith. Whether you are a classical music fan or not, when you hear the magic that his fingers produce as they fly over the enormous pipe organ’s keys, you can’t help but become transfixed. On numerous occasions, I’d sit next to my mom following the service and and listen to the entirety of his closing musical number. Then we’d clap loudly in appreciation. I was so very proud that he was a part of our church family.

In October of this year, Kimo was struck by an illness that saw the entire Loma Linda and surrounding areas praying for his survival. Kimo developed flesh-eating bacteria (neocrotizing fascitis) in his upper left leg. This rare disease has been noted to take the lives of 73 percent of those left untreated. No one knew how the disease would affect Kimo — if he would ever be able to play his beloved organ once again or even survive.

His recovery within the Loma Linda University ICU was long and arduous, but with the loving support of his friends and family, he was released on December 5th, 2010.

I am currently writing from Gothenburg, Sweden where yesterday I spoke to my mom on the phone who is back in the states. She tearfully related a story regarding the Candlelight Service at the Loma Linda University Church last Saturday evening:

At the end of the beautiful Christmas concert that included a full orchestra, seasonal songs and inspirational messages, the closing song began with a spotlight on a Cellist Jeff Kaatz playing the first few notes of Silent Night. “It began softly,” my mom narrated. “And then all of a sudden an organ sweetly joined in…the next thing I knew, the spotlight shifted and there was Kimo playing with his head held high.” Shocked, the crowd jumped to its feet and shouts of joy could be heard unlike any time my mom could remember. Tears ran down faces. “I was so very moved,” said mom. “I just cried and cried.”

Kimo slowly rose to his feet at the end of his performance and the crowd cheered with everything they had. He then gingerly left the stage and the show ended leaving spirits full and humanity hopeful.

We are faced with challenges in our lifetime that seem at times too hard to bear, but with Kimo as example the seemingly impossible is possible. With the love of community and family, lives are strengthened and true love found.

May we reach out to one another with the blessing of love this holiday season!

About Kimo Smith

Kimo Smith attended the University of Hawaii, La Sierra University, and the University of Southern California. A student of Ladd Thomas at USC, he completed his bachelor and master degrees, magna cum laude, in Organ Performance. He was selected to receive the Organ Department Outstanding Achievement Award on both occasions. He is a member of Pi Kappa Lambda, a national music honor society, and is listed in Outstanding Young Men of America. Dr. Smith holds the Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University Of California, Los Angeles where he was a student of Thomas Harmon. He is a past winner of several competitions sponsored by the American Guild of Organists and Music Teachers National Association. Dr. Smith is currently Assistant Professor of Music at La Sierra University where he is also Director Of Keyboard Studies, a member of the resident Brandstater Ensemble, and associate chair of the Department of Music. Having been involved in church music since the age of 12, Dr. Smith is currently organist of the University Church of Seventh-Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California, and the associate director of music, organist, and interim director of the Cathedral Choir of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood.

- Post by Jen Engevik
Project BE Bold

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  1. Vina Williams

    I am at this moment listening to the recording of the Los Angeles Master Chorale concert of January 2011 with Kimo Smith playing the organ. I am thrilled to know that he survived the terrible flesh-eating bacteria that assaulted him the previous October! Being a lover of organ music, I was concerned that I had not heard further news of him.

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