Bertil Herman Van Boer, Sr.

1924 - 2014

Bertil van Boer, accomplished flutist, conductor, and composer,   taught music in both the Seventh-day Adventist school 
system and at other public colleges and universities. He founded and conducted notable orchestras and ensembles and
was a frequent soloist and recitalist.

Bertil was born and raised Kumla, Sweden, on March 24, 1924, the son of Artur Hermann and Elsa Linnes Orest Boer. 
He entered the Swedish army at age thirteen and became the country's youngest lieutenant at age seventeen.  Because 
of his musical talent, he received training at the Royal Swedish Academy in flute, conducting, and music composition.
He became a Seventh-day Adventist at age twenty-two, when he was serving as conductor of the Gävle Philharmonic 
Orchestra, a regional ensemble about 100 miles north of Stockholm. At the time of his conversion he was a well-known 
concert flutist who played in the Royal Opera Orchestra and the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, which he also 
occasionally conducted. 

He was encouraged to attend the Adventist college in Ekebyholm, a few miles from Stockholm, to study theology. While there, he wrote an oratorio that was then performed as a special event for the college.  Herbert Blomstedt, a violinist and later an internationally known conductor, and Herbert's brother, a cellist, played in the orchestra van Boer formed for the performance of this work.

He at that time was a strict Sabbath keeper and at the urging of his uncle Carl in Sarasota, Florida, he moved to the U.S. in 1947, where he became music teacher for a year at Forest Lake Academy in Florida, directing the band and choir and teaching piano. He also became deeply involved in music activity in nearby Orlando, playing flute in the Orlando Philharmonic.

At the end of that year he was invited to chair the music program at Madison College, a self-supporting school in Tennessee. In his time at MC van Boer developed an outstanding music program. While there he also met Helen Shirley Bush, a pianist and a teacher in Nashville who had completed a bachelor's degree in English and biology and master's degrees in zoology and administration at Vanderbilt University. She went to him for assistance with a Beethoven sonata she was working on and offered to teach him English in return for his help. They married on June 12, 1949, and would have three sons, Bertil, Jr., Eric, and Kenton.

A graduate of the Royal Conservatory of Sweden, van Boer completed a B.Mus. and M.Mus. at Vanderbilt University in music theory and composition while at MC, studying with Roy Harris, an important American Neoclassical composer. He then obtained a position as flute instructor at Florida State University In 1951 and had attained the rank of assistant professor before moving to Southern California in 1956 to pursue doctoral study at the University of Southern California. In the next four years he conducted several orchestras and was also employed as an engineer/architect and a teacher in the local schools and community colleges in the San Gabriel valley.

The van Boers accepted positions at Pacific Union College in 1960, where he taught and directed the wind ensemble and concert band until 1964, and she taught in the biology and English departments. He subsequent taught at Napa Valley College for more than twenty years, and in retirement continued to teach at La Sierra College (now University), Sierra Nevada College, and Blue Ridge Community College in North Carolina. He was chair of the humanities department at Sierra Nevada College. He also served as director of the National Association of College Wind and Percussion Instructors (NACWAP), for whose journal he served as reviewer for many years.

While residing in California he also conducted the Napa Valley and San Gabriel Valley symphonies, Sierra Philharmonic, and the Paradise Symphony Orchestra. Following a move to Asheville, North Carolina, in 1994, he also conducted the Hendersonville Symphony and Asheville Chamber Orchestra, both in North Carolina. He conducted the ACO four times a year and continued to play flute as a member of a woodwind quintet through the first decade of this century.

Although Van Boer had continued graduate study at the University of Southern California, where his major professor in composition was Halsey Stevens, prolific composer and noted authority on Hungarian composer Bela Bartok, and gave a final DMA recital in composition, he did not complete a doctorate in composition. Throughout his career he continued to compose music. He wrote over 200 compositions, including four symphonies, eight oratorios, six works for wind ensemble, solos for smaller instruments with accompaniment, and others.

Helen continued graduate study in marine biology and received her counseling. As a poet, she wrote librettos for most of his oratorios and songs. They were living in North Carolina at the time of his death on June 30, 1914, at age ninety.  He was survived by his wife, Helen; their three sons, Bertil, who has a Ph.D. in musicology and is Professor of Musicology and Theory at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, and Eric and Kenton; and two grandchildren.


Source: Information and vita provided by Helen Van Boer, wife, 9 January 2008; Obituary, Blue Ridge, Times-News Online, Hendersonville, North Carolina, 13 July 2014; emails from Bertil Van Boer, Jr., 3, 6 July 2015.