Carolyn Jeanne Rhodes Bisel
1938 - 2005
Known for her beautiful soprano voice and ability to teach voice and direct choirs, Carolyn Rhodes Bisel taught at three Adventist colleges during her career and was widely featured as a soprano soloist in oratorios, concerts, and recitals. She toured nationally with her choirs and, in her final years, conducted the Cantare Musica, a well known choir in the Napa Valley region of California.
Bisel was born in Battle Creek, Michigan, on May 1, 1938, to John Wesley and Elma Rhodes. When she was five, her parents moved to Angwin, California, where her father had accepted a position at Pacific Union College as choir director. At age thirteen she moved with her family to Lincoln, Nebraska, where her father directed the choirs and chaired the music program at Union College.
She completed a B.S. in music education at UC in 1960 and immediately continued with graduate work at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Following completion of an M.Mus. at UNL in 1961, she studied at Columbia University in New York. In all her studies she was recognized for her outstanding voice and work as a soloist.
Rhodes accepted a position at Walla Walla College, now University, in 1962, where she taught voice and frequently performed on the campus and in the community for the next two years. Five years later, she accepted a position at Pacific Union College to teach voice and direct one of its choirs. During that school year she met Stanley Ira Bisel, and in 1968 they were the first couple to be married in the new PUC church.
In 1971 she recorded an album, Hallelujah, on the Stanbi Record label that elicited a response and favorable review in Billboard magazine, noted chronicle of music at that time:
Here's a well-coordinated, well-executed album of religious songs. Backed by the well-tempered organ of David Worth, Carolyn Bisel applies her musical standards, including "The Lord's Prayer," "The 23rd Psalm," "Hallelujah," and others. A truly remarkable recording . . .
The Bisels later moved to Berrien Springs, Michigan, where she taught at Andrews University. In 1984 they returned to the Napa Valley, where she continued to perform, teach voice, and conduct choirs until the time of her death on February27, 2005. She was revered for her work in voice and for her choral leadership and ability to inspire her students and those who heard her and her groups sing.
Sources: Obituaries, Napa Register (California); Pacific Union College Viewpoint, Summer 2005, 22; Billboard magazine, April 3, 1971; Dan Shultz, A Great Tradition, Music at Walla Walla College, 1892-1992, 133; Tributes by Vaida Falconbridge, and Kathryn Mott, See following:
There is a Hebrew proverb that goes something like this: "Say not in grief, 'she is no more,' but live in thankfulness that she was." After thirty years of being my teacher, mentor, colleague, friend, and practically my older sister, it is difficult to convey the level of esteem in which I hold Carolyn, and I thank God for the part she has played in my life.
I first got to know her when the Bisels moved to Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, where I was just about to start a Masters degree program. She became my voice professor, and for the first time, my voice really started to work easily. Many more pieces of the vocal puzzle, so to speak, fell into place; my high range became brilliant and free. I used to leave my voice lessons with Carolyn feeling like I was floating three feet above the sidewalk!
It is no exaggeration to say that I would not be a singer or voice teacher today without the masterful teaching and example of this remarkable woman. I constantly find myself modeling my teaching after hers, using many of the same illustrations and approaches she used with me. Im sure many of you here today who have also studied voice with her can say similar things.
Back in the Midwest all those years ago, I used to sing often at various churches throughout the region; I was incredibly flattered on several occasions when people would approach me afterward and ask if I studied with Carolyn Bisel. Clearly, her artistry and influence have inspired widespread admiration everywhere she has been and gone, and that throughout her entire life.
The past six years here in Napa, Carolyn conducted her Cantare Musica choral group in an annual Christmas concert. Even people who barely knew her would frequently comment to me along the lines of "what a great programmer she was, and how she picked the best music, and each years concert was better than the last." It is true that she was endlessly creative in her musical vision.
Even her laughter sounded like song; and I have always loved the way she invariably answered the telephone, "Hell0000!" with that unforgettable tuneful inflection. Many times after my lessons, we would just sit around and talk about music or listen to CDs of favorite singers for awhile. I remember one lovely afternoon several years ago, we were listening to a gorgeous choral number by the composer Arvo Part. Carolyn was literally enchanted with the sound, and closed her eyes while tears started running down her cheeks. She said then, "I hope someday when Im gone that people will say about me, She loved music so much."
Yes, Carolyn, that is only one of many fine things that people will say about you in the years to come, because you have touched so many of our lives across the generations and have imbued so many of us with your love of music, too. You have left the most beautiful of legacies.
I am so thankful that Carolyn has been in my life. We have made much, much beautiful music together, and will again in the earth made new. And even though Im quoting a bit out of context here, there are two lines from the first chapter of the book of Philippians that express how I will always think of my friend Carolyn: "I thank my God on every remembrance of you... I have you in my heart."
Theres nothing like the human touch. Whether its a handshake or a hug, we all like to be touched. When I took voice lessons from Carolyn, she used to grab my mouth to make an "o shape if I wasnt singing with a round enough tone. After she and Stan moved to Rancho Cordova, Carolyn drove over to Napa to teach lessons to many students in my home twice a week. She always greeted me with a hug. When she cut back on teaching, it was only once a week.
When she retired completely from teaching, she still came over to Napa once a week for choir practice. But that wasnt enough for me and I would drive over to her house often (Stan can attest to how many times I got lost going over there) and I hugged her hello and goodbye each time. I will miss that kind of touch, but now we all experience a different kind of touch from her, the kind of touch we feel from her influence in all of our lives.
I learned so much from Carolyn! She was so gifted! She could explain the unexplainable! But she also said what she thought. On one occasion she told the bass section she was going to take them out before a firing squad. But when they got the music right, her praise was genuine and well earned.
During our last Christmas concert she was so moved she had tears streaming down her face at the end of some of the numbers we sang, she was so touched she could hardly finish leading us. There was a couple of times she was too overcome to lead us and we didnt know when to cut off, so we just tapered out. We knew we had done it right. I told her that concert was her crowning glory.
Confucius had a saying that goes something like this; "Suffering is the only promise life keeps, so when we experience happiness, we embrace it, we rejoice in it, and we treasure it in our hearts forever."
I have been taught that we will enjoy the same sociality in the next life that we enjoy here, so I am looking forward to singing in her choir (shes probably putting a program together right now), as well as seeing her beautiful garden. I cant wait to hear her greeting, "Hi there!"
Carolyn believed in me. I found many new friends through her. She gave me opportunities I would not have had without her. But she was more than my teacher, she was my friend. She was the wind beneath my wings.
I know God hears and answers our prayers, just sometimes the answer isnt what we want. This is the test of our faith that we know we will see her again. I would like to quote from Buzz Lightyear's To Infinity and Beyond!
The only burdens that are too heavy to bear are the ones we carry alone. A sorrow shared is half the sorrow. A joy shared is twice the joy. We are not put here on Earth to see through one another, but to see one another through.
So Stan, Stacey, Steven, and Kyla, we are here for you. Thank you for sharing your wife, your mother and your grandmother with us.
MY TRIBUTE TO CAROLYN
My Christmas card read . . .
"To my dearest friend, Kathryn." My thoughts today are to my dearest friend, Carolyn . . . my transparent friend.
Carolyn has been my mentor for about thirty years and vocal teacher for about twenty years. Carolyn taught me to sing, but with an emphasis on "life."
Carolyn taught the whole person. As soon as you sang your first note she knew what kind of day you were having. I sang my best during that hour and would soar with her instruction and inspiration.
Carolyn taught in such a creative way that she gave one the tools to share this instrument called the voice.
Carolyn loved us, was kind and gentle, so fair, so intelligent and so inspiring. Her glee when a phrase went well could surely be heard by her neighbors. I will greatly miss the weekly phone calls. Quite recently, she gave me more conducting skills over the phone. She had so much to share. I received many CDs with music she knew I would love.
When we moved to the mountains seven years ago, to Lake Aalmanor, I bemoaned my isolation from friends and music, but I soon found this card that gave me courage. "Use what talents you possess. The woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best." Some birds have beautiful songs and some have only one-note songs, but they sing with joy.
I too will sing that one note inspired by Carolyn, but oh how I look forward to that duet in heavenly places where we can sing together and once again hear that magnificent voice. To hear Carolyn sing at my lessons brought me great joy and inspiration.
I love you, Carolyn.