Earl (Blondie) E. Rohlf, Jr.

 1930 -

Earl (Blondie) Rohlf, an accomplished tenor singer and clarinetist, has been musically active all his life. Primarily a singer, he has performed occasionally as a soloist and been a member of choral groups and many male quartets.

The only son of Earl E. Rohlf, Sr., and Ruth Borgen Rohlf, Earl grew up in a home where music was an important part of life. Years later, his recollection of family music activity remained an important and vivid memory:

Friday night was a big thing in our home. Mom, who was a pretty fair pianist and organist, would play, and my dad, who was a tremendous natural bass and could also play piano, would lead out as we would gather around the piano and sing. Years later, because of that experience and later ones, I knew at least one verse and maybe two of most of the songs in the old Church Hymnal [1941], Christ in Song, the Rodeheaver's, and other song books.

Earl began taking lessons at age eight on violin. A year later, after the family had relocated to Michigan to be near a church school, he was one of five children who took group lessons on the clarinet for three years from John J. Hafner, band director at Emmanuel Missionary College, now Andrews University.

By the time he was a teenager, he had become a highly proficient clarinetist, playing first chair in the academy band at Laurelwood Academy in Gaston, Oregon. He also learned to play the saxophone and took lessons on the mandolin and piano. It was also during this time, that he became known as Blondie, because of his blond wavy hair, a name he liked and has been known by all his life.

However, while Rohlf enjoyed playing the clarinet, he became increasingly interested in singing in the academy choir and in a male trio. The latter became known for its important role in presenting a promotional program for the school and the Christian experience called "The Challenge of the Cross."

When he was fifteen, he had an experience that he later described as the thrill of a lifetime for a young person, one that repeated itself years later:

I was a great admirer of the King's Heralds. In 1945 they came to Portland for camp meeting. I was watching them rehearse when Richard Lange, who had been my choir teacher and was singing in the group, came to me and said, "How would you like to sing a couple of songs with the boys? Do you know the baritone part?" I said, "I think so!" It was truly a thrill for me at that time.

Later when the quartet had left the Voice of Prophecy program and become The Heralds, Jerry Patton, who had been a classmate of my sister Pat when she attended Union College, was now singing second tenor. They had performed a number of times at our church, and the last time they came, while they were preparing for their concert, Jerry came to me and asked if I would be interested in singing a couple of songs with them as they rehearsed. I said, "I would give an arm to do so." He went and sat a couple of rows back and listened while I sang with them. I really enjoyed that.

Following graduation from academy in 1948, Rohlf enrolled at Walla Walla College, now University, at the insistence of his parents, where he withdrew after a few weeks to find work in a timber-industry-related job. In 1949, he married Doreen Black, a girl he had known since academy days. The following year they moved to Minnesota for a year and then traveled to California, where he fulfilled a Forest Service contract in Fresno, California, near Yosemite National Park. They then set out for Portland, Oregon, where he planned on getting a job in refrigeration, a trade he had learned years earlier from his father.  

While passing through Medford, Rohlf stopped to see one of his friends, one of the two students he had sung with in the trio at the academy, who was working in a sawmill for an Adventist. He was offered a job and began employment at the Eugene F. Burrill Mill, a small family operation. He started at the bottom and in the next 43 years advanced to head sawyer, production supervisor, superintendent, and finally operations manager while the company grew to include over 200 employees. He also became a pilot while working with them.

Through the years, Rohlf continued to be musically active, singing in a number of quartets in church and in the Oregon Men's Chorus. He enjoyed the experience with OMC, recalling one program in particular:

One of the most inspiring experiences I've had in music happened when we gave a concert in the Sunnyside Church in Portland that involved Wayne Hooper and Melvin West. In the song service we did three congregational hymns. On the last hymn we did two stanzas, and then Dr. West started an interlude, a modulation that ended up being a spectacular transition unlike any I have ever heard before. Just when you thought he was coming into our new key, he would continue on. I had chills running up and down my arms and back by the time we entered with the final verse.

Lou Wildman was our regular conductor. He introduced Wayne as our guest conductor who would lead us in the singing of two of his songs, The Want of the World is Men . . . and We Have this Hope. Lou observed, "You will notice our conductor has no music on the stand. He doesn't need it. Wayne then conducted us in his own unique way.

Rohlf also became involved in music outside the church, singing for several years in SPEBQSA (Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Sing in America) sponsored groups:

My involvement in barbershop quartet singing started when I got involved in the Rogue Valley Harmonizers in the mid-fifties, an organization that was part of the local SPEBQSA. My uncle had taken me when I was twelve to one of their international conventions when it was held in St. Paul, Minnesota. That experience made quite an impression on me.

Shortly after joining the chorus, I was invited to join a quartet. Eventually, I ended up in a group called the Metaphores, which was a good combination of voices that worked well together and enjoyed a good reputation. We did a lot of traveling in the state and sang together for several years.

At one point we were invited to be critiqued by an internationally noted person who was visiting in the area. We were really excited thinking this was a big deal. After cordial greetings, we were invited to do our thing. Halfway through our first song, he stopped us and then started offering a critique that initially was devastating, but actually proved to be helpful. Whereas we had been content to get the chords right and balanced, we really needed to engage our audience more by focusing on them and selling our song to them. It was advice I have since followed and have shared with others.

I learned a lot about singing during my time with the barbershop groups - such things as using the diaphragm, getting maximum sound with minimal air, voice placement, maximizing vowels and minimizing consonants, correct ways to sing difficult sounds like e and r, and other important aspects of singing.

Even though it was the most fun I had ever had as a singer, I became uneasy about it because of conflicts with the Sabbath and other activities that I found troubling. About that time we lost our lead singer and the quartet disbanded.

Rohlf has been involved in evangelism, serving as a lay speaker at SDA churches and promoting outreach programs for the SDA church. At one point, the Oregon Conference supported his activity on behalf of the church by paying for his travel expenses until he decided to retire from that activity. He went to India once, where he worked as an evangelist, which he describes as a life-changing experience.


Source: Interview with Earl Rohlf, Jr.