Charles Lefelia Pierce
1924 - 2015
Charles Pierce, pianist and singer, taught at four academies and three colleges in the Seventh-day Adventist school system in a career that spanned forty years. Nearly half of his career was spent at Adventist colleges in Brazil and Canada.
Charles was born in Candler, North Carolina, on January 11, 1924, one of four children and the older of two sons of Lefelia F. and Dorothy Graves Pierce, founders of and teachers at Pisgah Institute, later Mount Pisgah Academy. He outgrew the piano teacher at the academy and in his last two years at the school continued study with a well-known teacher, Grace Potter Carroll, who lived in nearby Asheville. He also studied voice while in academy.
Following graduation in 1941, he went to Madison College for a short while before transferring to Southern Missionary College, now Southern Adventist University, where he majored in piano and continued voice study. While at SMC, he was drafted into the army and briefly served stateside during World War II before being given a medical discharge when he contracted rheumatic fever.
Although he returned to SMC planning to complete a degree in music, he was asked while still a student to teach at Highland Academy in Tennessee in 1946. Following one year at HA, where he taught piano and organ and directed choir, he married Beatrice Aline Ralls, a singer and pianist, on June 3, 1947. They lived in Florida for the next three years, where he taught music at Forest Lake Academy. He returned to SMC in 1950 and graduated the following spring.
A month after his graduation, the Pierces traveled to Brazil, where Charles was the only music teacher at Brazil College in Sao Paulo for the next three and one-half years. Upon return to the U.S. in December 1954, when the school year ended in Brazil, he taught for the remainder of that school year and an additional year at Mount Pisgah Academy. He then taught at Mount Vernon Academy in Ohio, from 1956 until 1959. He completed a master's degree at George Peabody College for Teachers, now a part of Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1958, again majoring in piano and studying voice.
Pierce accepted a position at Columbia Union College, now Washington Adventist University, in 1959. In his first year there, he collaborated with Neil Tilkins and Betty Christensen in a performance of Bach's rarely heard Concerto for Three Pianos in D Minor. He continued to play a two-piano recital with his colleagues every year while at the college during his fourteen years there. He served as chair of the program for eleven years, beginning in 1962.
While at CUC, Pierce served as president of the Greater Washington Chapter of the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) and as vice-president of the Maryland Music Teachers Association. He also sang with choral groups and sang solos with the Washington Chamber Orchestra. During this time, he started work on a doctorate in music at Catholic University of America.
When he left CUC, he taught elementary school music in the public system for a year, before going to teach at Canadian Union College, now Burman University, in 1974. At the end of his third year at CUC, he became chair of the music department, having completed all requirements for a D.M.A. at CUA a year earlier, in 1976. His dissertation was titled A History of Music and of Music Education of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He was the first graduate from SMC to complete a doctorate in music.
In his eleven years as music chair at Canadian Union College, Pierce built and ran a strong music program in what had previously been an uneven situation for many years. Following official retirement in December 1989, he continued to teach at the college until June 1990, completing fifteen years at the school. He continued to give piano lessons in his home in nearby Lacombe, present recitals, and practice piano for two hours daily for the next seventeen years.
A frequent piano recitalist throughout his life, Pierce was also an active singer, participating in professional choirs until 2004. Particularly noteworthy was his membership in the Richard Eaton Singers in Edmonton, Canada, a large choral group of 150 that sang choral masterpieces in concerts and with the Edmonton Symphony and toured extensively. Additionally, when possible, he played organ and directed choirs in churches of different denominations throughout his career.
The Pierces remained in Alberta, Canada, until they moved to Florida in 2007 to live with their daughter, Cheryl Diane (Cheri). They were living in Florida when Beatrice died on August 30, 2015, at age 91, after a long battle against Alzheimer's disease. Charles died the following month, on September 10 at age 91. They were survived by their son, Charles (Chuck), and daughter.
Sources: 1920, 1930 U. S. Federal Census records, Ancestry.com; Charles L. Pierce, interview by Dan Shultz, 2007. A proposed biography based on that interview was reviewed by Pierce and approved with corrections, by email, December 30, 2007. The resulting document was the primary source for this biography; North Carolina, Marriage Records, 1741-2011, Ancestry.com; The Keynote, October 1959, 7; K. J Berry, "Our Mount Pisgah Academy," Southern Tidings, January 26, 1955, 7; Sylvia Burk, "Music Faculty Performs Masters," The Sligonian, October 2, 1959; "CUC News Item," Canadian Union Messenger, November 1, 1976, 394; The Catholic University of America, D.M.A., 1976 Music 77-13, 834. Available in the Heritage Room, La Sierra University, Riverside, California; Charles L. Pierce, "Canadian Union College," The IAMA Journal, Spring 1985, 27; Pierce, Beatrice Aline (Ralls) obituary, and Pierce, Charles L. obituary, both in (Southern)Tidings, October 2015, 40.