1915 - 1972
Alfred Walters, a beloved and legendary figure in Seventh-day Adventist higher music education, taught at Atlantic Union College and La Sierra College, now La Sierra University. A superb nationally known SDA violinist, inspiring teacher, and insightful director of school orchestras, he was a compassionate person who was devoted to music and his students and unusually successful in developing relationships with others.
Alfred was born in Tonawanda, New York, on May 31, 1915, the second oldest of six children of Harvey C., a piano teacher, and Maria F. Montoro Walters, a native of Italy. Music was a central activity in the family; an older brother, Peter Louis, a pianist, graduated from the New England Conservatory and played as a soloist with the Boston Symphony in 1935, and a younger brother, Robert W. (Bob), played in a popular dance band in the 1940s.
Although Alfred started piano at age five, he switched to violin after hearing Fritz Kreisler, famed violinist of the time, who inspired him with his playing and the observation that Alfred would become a great musician. He received his first violin on Christmas Day, 1924, at age nine. Following graduation from the high school in Tonawanda at age seventeen, he gave lessons to interested students when the school offered free lessons from him as it sought to develop its orchestra.
Walters received a B.S. in music and psychology at State Teachers College in Fredonia, New York, in 1940 and married Margaret Louise Schulz on July 13, 1940. Two years later, after serving for a year as director of instrumental music at a school in Kenmore, New York, and a year as band director at Griffith Institute in Springville, New York, he was hired to teach at Atlantic Union College.
Walters chaired the music program, directed the choir, band, and orchestra, and taught violin, piano, and wind instruments at AUC until 1947. During his first year at the college he wrote the music for the senior class song and at the end of the year played piano for graduation marching and was violin soloist for the commencement service. While at AUC he completed an M.Mus. at Boston University in 1946 while on leave and soloed with the Boston Pops Orchestra conducted by Arthur Fiedler.
He was invited to teach at La Sierra College, now University, in southern California the following year. Walters was 32 when he arrived on campus in the fall of 1947, and although his initial assignment was to teach violin and direct the orchestra at LSC, he also assumed leadership of the band at the end of his first year when its director left. Even though he quickly gained popularity as band director, it would prove to be an interim appointment that ended five years later because of the string program's rapid growth.
For the remainder of his career, Walters taught violin, played frequently as a violin soloist, directed the orchestra, and performed often, giving countless recitals and concerts in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Europe. He produced five solo records and several orchestra albums. His last record, Midnight Bells, released under the Bridge label in 1972, was a memorial to violinist Fritz Kreisler, who had inspired him as young boy to pursue a career in music.
In 1968, Walters soloed with the Los Angeles Pops Orchestra in 1969 and in 1970 with the Riverside Symphony. He was concertmaster of the San Bernardino Orchestra and served as concertmaster with the Riverside Symphony from1965 until near the end of life. He directed the General Conference Session orchestra and served as music coordinator for those meetings in 1966 and 1971.
At the time of his death, he was developing string programs in the Southern California Conference's SDA elementary schools and academies and was director of the Loma Linda University Orchestra (La Sierra College and LLU had merged five years earlier, a union that continued until 1990). Through the years at LSC, Walters became known for his artistry on the violin and the polished, musical performances of his orchestras.
He enjoyed playing table tennis and growing roses and was known for his enthusiasm and wit, "the quickest wit on campus," according to the 1960 Meteor, LSC yearbook. His colleagues enjoyed working with him and the students knew him affectionately as "Prof Walters." They dedicated the 1957 Meteor to him, praising him as a Christian gentleman, a rare artist, inspiring teacher, and friend. They also praised his courage, unselfishness, devotion to duty, understanding, and kind heart.
In the spring of 1970 Walters left his treasured 1916 Francesco Guadanini violin and case on the rear of his car while talking with friends as he was preparing to leave after a performance. It flew off the back of his car on the freeway and was destroyed by another car. He was devastated by this loss and unable to play for several weeks. That summer and fall, his colleagues and students campaigned to raise money to replace the loss with an appropriate instrument and purchased a valuable 1730 violin by Carlos Testore of Milan. He was so overwhelmed by this generosity that he immediately scheduled an "Appreciation Concert" in November.
In the summer of 1972, Walters accompanied the Loma Linda University Chamber singers on a tour of Northern Europe and the Scandinavian countries. His participation in the tour ended abruptly, however, with the recurrence of cancer which had first occurred in 1955. Shortly after he arrived back in the U.S. his right leg was amputated hoping to contain the disease.
Despite this setback, he continued to make a few appearances until shortly before his death on December 11, 1972, at age 57. He was survived by his wife, Margaret; a daughter, Denise; and three sons, Robert, David, and John. An Alfred Walters Scholarship is now awarded to LSU students who plan to teach music in Adventist schools.
Sources: 1920, 1930, and 1940 U.S. Federal Census Records, Ancestry. com; A.E. Sanderson, "Western New York, Buffalo," Atlantic Union Gleaner, April 19, 1922, 1,2; Alfred Walters obituary, Review and Herald, March 1, 30; "Peter Walters Will Take Part in Boston Concert," The Evening News, North Tonawanda, (NY), June 5, 1935, 3; "South Side Man May Hit Movies," The Evening News, North Tonawanda, February 17, 1942, 1; "The Orchestra," 1937 Tonawanda (NY) High School yearbook, 53; "Alfred Walters Succumbs to a 17-year Struggle with Cancer," Pacific Union Recorder, January 8, 1973, 6; "Walters-Schulz Wedding Solemnized on Thursday Evening in Buffalo Church," The Evening News, North Tonawanda, (NY), July 13, 1940, 6; "Commencement at AUC," Atlantic Union Gleaner, June 1943, 1; Printed Program for Band Tour, 1952, 1953; 1955 Meteor, La Sierra College yearbook, 40; 1957 Meteor, 2; "Alfred Walters Schedules an Appreciation Concert," Pacific Union Recorder, November 2, 1970, 8.