C. Warren Becker
1923 - 2004
C. Warren Becker was professor of organ and church organist at Andrews University from 1959 to1995. He was chosen Teacher of the Year at AU in 1970, awarded the Charles E. Weniger and J. N. Andrews Medallions in 1982, and given the AU Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence in 1986. In addition to his organ responsibilities at AU, Becker taught music theory, music literature and history, and church music. He also directed the seminary chorus on occasion and chaired the department during the 1985-86 school year.
Claude Warren Becker was born in St. Maries, Idaho, on May 25, 1923, the third of four children of Alvin Charles and Beatrice Jones Becker. Years later, he described his first encounter with an organ at a tent meeting and his attempt to play the instrument:
On a late spring evening, a harried young mother, needing a break from her four children, decided to get away for a while. As she had no money and since the local movie theater was closed anyway, she wandered into a tent meeting, where she heard a discussion of Daniel 2. The tent's sparse furnishings included crude wooden benches, sawdust on the ground, a few lonely chairs on a platform, and a makeshift pulpit. The one exception was a reed pump organ (harmonium).
Captivated by what she heard, the mother continued attending the tent meetings to hear the preacher. Her third son, barely six years old, developed a tremendous fascination for that reed organ. With its rich bass tones and multiple sets of reeds, the instrument and its possibilities intrigued the boy. On the piano at home he could play, by ear, almost anything he heard on the radio.
When granted permission to try the harmonium, the little organ dreamer was ecstatic. His joy turned to frustration, however, when he discovered the stool was too high for his short legs to pump the bellows. The young evangelist's wife, an enterprising school teacher, took two Campbell soup cans, bored holes in the sides, threaded strings through the holes and attached the cans to the boy's shoes. The little would-be organist could now pump the bellows and play the organ. And thus began for me what developed into a life-long career of serious interest in organs and organ playing.1
Becker began his music study by taking piano lessons and enrolling in a correspondence course in music from the Sherwood Music School in Chicago. Although he was offered a scholarship to the Sherwood school when he graduated from high school, he instead attended Walla Walla College, now University. Following his graduation from WWC in 1945, he married Sophie Louise Andross on May 31. She had graduated from WWC with a B.A. in music a year earlier and then taught piano at La Sierra College, now University.
Becker began his career that autumn as a teacher at Pacific Union College. He would teach there for fourteen years, serving as chair for three of those years, from 1956 to 1959. During that time he completed a master's degree in organ in 1951 at Eastman School of Music. In 1963, four years after accepting a position at AU, he completed a D.M.A. in organ performance and pedagogy at ESM.
Becker was known for his creativity as an organist in leading the congregation in the singing of hymns and in the teaching of numerous students. He was responsible for the placement of a 75-rank Casavant pipe organ in the pioneer Memorial Church in 1966 which was refurbished and expanded to 78 ranks in 2001.
In 1979 Harold Gleason, noted musicologist and organ scholar, invited Becker to be co-author of the well-known five-volume Music History Outlines. A grant enabled him to spend two years in California and during that time he also prepared the sixth edition of Gleason's Method of Organ Playing for publication.
Becker was named a WWC Honored Alumnus in 1985, at the time of his official retirement at AU. He then continued at AU as chair of the music department for the 1986-1987 school year and for a decade as organist of the university church, a tenure at AU that spanned 36 years. The Beckers retired to northern California in 1997, to be closer to their two sons, Stephen and Harold, and their families. They were visiting with one of his sons when Becker died as the result of an accident on November 23, 2004, at age eighty.
1 The extended comment by Becker about his first experience with an organ was his introduction to an article he wrote for the spring 1991 Adventist Heritage magazine titled, "Organs and Their Masters in the Seventh-day Adventist Church." This was updated by Dan Shultz in consultation with Becker and reprinted with permission from La Sierra University in the Winter/Spring 2003 issue of Notes, a publication of the International Adventist Musicians Association.
Sources: 1930 U.S. Federal Census; Sophie Andross at LSC, Pacific Union Recorder, June 7, 1944; C. Warren Becker, "Organs and Their Masters in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Adventist Heritage Magazine, Spring 1991, pgs. 5-11; Dan Shultz, A Great Tradition, Music at Walla Walla College, 1892-1992, pgs. 245, 246; Obituary, Andrews University winter 2005 issue of its alumni magazine, Focus; Obituary for Beatrice Becker, North Pacific Union Conference Gleaner, 19 January 1981, pg. 25; Ancestory.com, One World Tree, Alvin Charles Becker; Program notes by Linda Wildeman Mack for "Praise to the Lord, A Celebration in Remembrance," an Andrews University memorial program, 1 October 2005; Email from Lyle Hamel, 26 November 2004, circumstances of Warren Becker's death; Personal Knowledge.
A Tribute to C. Warren Becker
Linda Wildman Mack
One of the most outstanding keyboard musicians and educators of the SDA Church, Dr. C. Warren Becker this year marks his thirtieth year of service to Andrews University. Following graduation from Walla Walla College, he served Pacific Union College as keyboard and theory instructor as well as music department chair before joining the Andrews faculty in 1959.
Within his first decade at Andrews, he had completed his Doctor of Musical Arts degree in organ performance and pedagogy from the Eastman School of Music, had overseen the installation of the 75-rank Casavant organ for Pioneer Memorial church, and had built a large class of organ students.
He served the St. Joseph, Michigan, community as organist-choirmaster of the First Congregational church from 1960-1969. Becker has also contributed to the local chapters of the American Guild of Organists serving as Dean as well as giving workshops and recitals.
Some of his notable contributions in the last decade have been in the field of music scholarship. In 1979 he was chosen by eminent musicologist and organ scholar Harold Gleason to co-author the authoritative Music History Outlines series. A grant enabled him to spend more than two years in California preparing the five-volume set for publication by the Frangipani Press of Bloomington, Indiana. During this time he also prepared the sixth edition of Gleasons' Method of Organ Playing for publication.
Following his official retirement from Andrews University in 1985, Becker accepted the position of Music Department Chair for the year 1986-87. He continues to serve as the University and Pioneer Memorial Church Organist and teach hymnology and organ performance, pedagogy, and literature.
Although inclined to pass any personal credit on to God and to others, he has received several public honors. In 1970 he was chosen Teacher of the Year by the Andrews University Student Association. The Charles E. Weniger and J.N. Andrews Medallions were awarded him in 1982. His alma mater, Walla Walla College, designated him Honored Alumnus in 1985, and he was given the Andrews University Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence in 1986.
His students remember him reading passages from Christ's Object Lessons on the parable of the talents to motivate them to the development of their God-given gifts. He has always encouraged his students to serve their communities not only in SDA churches, but also through other Christian churches and organizations.
Becker leads countless worshipers in homage to God, guides students in exploration of the organ as an instrument of beauty and service, and continues his work as a musical scholar. He gives organ recitals, lecture-recitals and organ demonstrations, and organizes hymn festivals and church music workshops. Programs are started with a scripture and prayer of praise, drawing his listeners to thoughts of God verbally as well as through his heartfelt playing. Many of the printed programs of his performances bear the inscription Soli dei gloria.
He continually searches for new ideas and vehicles of communication in the field of organ and church music. In order to introduce new renditions of praise to Pioneer Memorial Church he often devotes the time of worship service prelude to teaching the congregation an unfamiliar hymn from the 1985 hymnal.
Because Becker believes that one of the most important functions of a church musician is to lead congregations in the singing of hymns, he teaches his students to guide the people in singing with understanding. To him the study of hymn playing is equally important to the study of organ literature. He teaches creative registration, phrasing, modulation, and even silence to illuminate the message of the texts. He leads rather than prods congregations to worship through song.
Students are encouraged to master the great organ works, studying the performance practice and organs of the time to help the music come alive. To promote diligence in gaining command of the music, Becker may quote the text "For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?" (I Cor. 14:8, KJV).
His use of the Socratic method of teaching assists students in active participation in their own education. Becker values and shows respect for students' ideas and opinions in his studio and classroom. He maintains an open studio so students may learn methods of teaching from him and from each other.
What he receives, he generously shares. In addition to his sharing of his talents in performing and teaching, students, colleagues, and members of the community know him to be generous with his time. His office door is always open. One may catch him riding his bicycle across campus, working in his yard, or talking on the telephone while lunch is getting cold - he always lends a listening ear and is ready to help. Generosity is the keynote of Warren Becker's career.
This tribute was printed in the Summer 1989 issue of the IAMA Journal, a publication of the International Adventist Musicians Association.