Dartmouth Mourns Death of Doctoral Student Scott Smedinghoff

1/18/2016
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Scott Smedinghoff, remembered by his colleagues as a brilliant mathematician and a gifted pianist, died suddenly at his Lebanon, N.H., home last week. He was 28.

Image removed.Scott Smedinghoff performs during the May 2015 Dartmouth College Wind Ensemble concert. (Photo by Rob Strong ’04)

Smedinghoff was in the fourth year of his PhD work in a branch of abstract mathematics known as non-communitive geometry. He was an acclaimed pianist for the Dartmouth College Wind Ensemble and served as choir director and organist at the First Congregational Church in Thetford, Vt.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 23, at Rollins Chapel, and a reception will follow in Kemeny Hall. Calling hours at the Rand-Wilson Funeral Home in Hanover will be from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 22.

“We’re a very close knit community here and we’re all completely shocked that Scott won’t be with us anymore or going on to what we all expected was going to be a stellar career as a research mathematician,” said Dana Williams, a mathematics professor and colleague of Smedinghoff.

Dartmouth College Wind Ensemble Director Matthew Marsit said he had the highest regard for Smedinghoff’s technical and artistic abilities as a pianist and organist for the ensemble.

“Incredible only begins to describe his talent. We really didn’t view him quite as a student, but as a collaborator. We worked together on many pieces and I trusted him as much as any professional musician I’ve known,” Marsit said.

“He took particular joy as a collaborator. I was always turning to Scott to take on the most technically challenging pieces,” Marsit said. “There was nothing that he couldn’t play.”

Music Department Chair Steve Swayne, the Jacob H. Strauss 1922 Professor of Music, said he has great admiration for Smedinghoff as a fellow pianist. Smedinghoff’s fall 2015 recital included the daunting repertoire of Ligeti’s “Devil’s Staircase” etude; Beethoven’s Op. 109; the four Szymanowski etudes, Op. 4; and the Chopin B-minor sonata, Swayne said.

“Playing just two of these monumental works on a program is an enormous undertaking, but to add to that the etudes by Szymanowski are particularly difficult. So he was ambitious and he makes me look like a piker,” Swayne said. “His capacity to play all kinds of music was remarkable.”

In mathematics, Smedinghoff was one of the department’s most promising graduate students, Williams said.

“He was very modest, but you know how someone can exude confidence without being condescending? You knew with Scott that he was confident about his mathematics. I also remember how he was very confident about his ability as a musician,” Williams said. “We’re certainly going to miss him. We all expected him to be very successful once he finished his degree and we were looking forward to following his career. It’s a big loss.” 

Marsit said that as both a friend and a colleague, he could see how passionate Smedinghoff was about both math and music. “The joke was that with all his abilities as a musician, as organist and choir director at his church, he would just finish up his Ph.D in advanced abstract mathematics and then decide on a career path.”

Smedinghoff earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics from Williams College, where he was also active in the musical community. In addition to serving as choir director at the First Congregational Church in Thetford, Vt., he was an organist at Lyme Congregational Church. His parents, Linda and Jim Smedinghoff, have traveled from their home in Illinois to make funeral arrangements. Memorials may be made through the Rand-Wilson Funeral Home in Hanover.