Ralph Chester S. Barger
1902 - 1994
Chester Barger, known primarily as a teacher and principal in several Seventh-day Adventist ten-grade schools and as the librarian at Adelphian Academy in Michigan in the 1960s, was also an adept composer. While most of his output was sacred music written for worship, he also wrote a small amount of secular music.
Chester was born in Greeley, Colorado, the second of five sons of Lewis S. and Roxie Ann Chester and grew up in an artistic home. His father, a teacher, composed music, and his mother wrote poetry. She would give musical readings and recite poetry at school programs, and his father would often join with his sons in singing quartet music.
Following his graduation from Union College, Barger taught in SDA church schools in Colorado, South Dakota, and Michigan. During this time he married Thelma Alzada Scriven, a teacher, in August 1934. She had had rheumatic fever as a child, which damaged her heart. Even so, she taught for a short while before and after their marriage but became an invalid during the last three years of her life. Following her death in 1948, he continued to teach.
From his earliest years, Chester had dabbled in composition. He wrote several compositions when he was teaching in Onaway, Michigan, in the 1940s. In 1944 he wrote a piano piece titled The Hobby Horse for a hobby show, a work his family enjoyed hearing him play in later years. During this same period he wrote other works, two of which were titled Dreams of Home - A Musical Fantasy, and We Sing and Welcome the Spring, Tra La.
When Barger married Bethel Rice in May 1949, he wrote a hymn for the occasion titled The Golden Road, which was sung by a mixed quartet. In that same year, feeling the need to improve his writing, he studied music theory privately with a teacher at a university in the Washington, D.C., area.
Barger wrote mostly hymns in subsequent years. He copyrighted his work and had 120 of his songs bound in three volumes. Another group of songs, written in the 1960s and 1970s for a fourth volume, survives in manuscript form.
After the Bargers retired, they lived in Colorado. They were living in Loveland, when he died at age 91.
Sources: Letter from Barger to Dwight Rhodes, 17 May 2005, which accompanied three collections of hymns. Rhodes’ observation in a cover letter to me, dated 8 August 2007, after reviewing these books: "There are a total of 120 songs. Of the songs I have read, the theology, poetry, and diversity of subjects are highly commendable and do not overshadow his music." Ancestry.com World Tree Project, The Trinkle and Allied Families (Thelma Scriven and Ralph Chester S. Barger); obituaries for Thelma Alzada Scriven, Northern Union Outlook, 20 June 1948, 8, and Central Union Reaper, 3 August 1948, 5; online obituary for Bethel Rice Barger; obituary for R. Chester Barger, Columbia Union Visitor, 15 August 1994; personal knowledge.
R. Chester S.Barger
Available at the Andrews University Library
Songs of Rejoicing, Praise, and Prayer: Songs For Various Occasions and Moods 1968
The Beautiful City and Other Songs For Young and Old 1974
Let Us Praise Him: Songs For Various Occasions and Moods 1980
The following series of articles by R. Chester Barger was published in Ministry Magazine, in June, July, and August 1950 and can be accessed online.
"Music of the Message: the Development of Modern Church Music"
"Music of the Message: Modern Church Music - No. 2"
"Music of the Message: Modern Church Music - No. 3"