Florence Bernhardt Clarambeau

1927 -

Florence Clarambeau, pianist, taught in four academies and four colleges and universities in the Seventh-day Adventist education system during a career that spanned nearly five decades. From her first encounter with the piano as a young child, her goal was to be a music teacher, one she realized fully as she taught and enjoyed working with students of all ages. Some of her students have also pursued careers in music.

Florence was born on a farm in Kingfisher, Oklahoma, one of two children and the only daughter, of Fred and Alice Grenz Bernhardt. She spent all of her childhood there, except for two years when the family lived in Lodi, California.

Her interest in music and piano started the day a new piano was delivered to their home. She was unable to leave it alone, and within a short while her mother made arrangements for her to study with a neighborhood girl. She was an apt student and by age eight was playing for church.

Although there were other teachers in those first years, the most influential was a private teacher, Edna Salas, with whom she studied during the two years the family spent in California. In one of her lessons, Salas asked Florence what she was going to be when she grew up. She later recalled her response with a laugh:

I was insulted. I thought everybody knew I was going to be a piano teacher. I couldn't understand why she was asking me. I thought she knew. I was around nine years old at the time.

The return to the farm was a difficult one, since Florence had regarded the stay in California as a short visit in paradise and the move back to Oklahoma meant the end of her study with Salas. She resumed piano study and eventually studied with a person who was the principal and music teacher in a small country school.

He had started an orchestra in the school the first semester with only three violins. He got me to play piano with the orchestra, which was not unusual in a circumstance like that. By the second semester he decided he needed a band, so he wanted me to play the clarinet. I had picked up a little bit about all the instruments when I had helped students with their practice. When I wasn't studying, he would send me down to the music room to help students who were learning different instruments.

My folks bought me a clarinet and I learned it on my own. I never had any lessons until I went to Emmanuel Missionary College [now Andrews University] years later. After a year in this school I entered Enterprise Academy in 1942. I played all during my time there and then in the band at Union College when I went there.

She had the good fortune of studying piano with Eleanor Krogstad and playing clarinet in the band under her husband, Norman. During Florence's second year at EA, Norman was drafted into the army and Eleanor became the only music teacher. Florence graduated from the academy at the end of her second year, at age 16. She later talked about her initiation into life at Union College:

Sixteen-year olds have no business in college. I was a young smart aleck. If it wasn't music, I didn't think it was worth my time. Then I got my grades. Sheeesh . . . After that I didn't bother studying unless it was music, where I got my A's. I studied piano with Adrian Lauritzen at that time.

After my sophomore year, I went out and taught at Shelton Academy [later Platte Valley Academy] in Nebraska, where I taught all the music for two years. I finally woke up and decided that I needed to get back to college. The Lauritzens had left by the time of my return, and Harlan Abel had come to direct the choirs. I accompanied his choir and voice students for lessons and studied piano with Charles Watson. I owe a lot to Watson, who helped me develop my piano technique.

It was an exciting time in music at the college. The music building had just been completed. Wayne Hooper was there, directing the lower division choir and also teaching other music classes. Lyle Jewell, Harold Lickey, and other talented students were enrolled, and spirits were high.

I was just finishing my program at Union in 1950 when I got an invitation to teach at Walla Walla College [now University]. I was flattered and decided to go.

During her three years at WWC, she met Lyle Clarambeau, an older student from Oregon. They married in 1952 and in 1953 near the end of his study, they moved to Caldwell, Idaho, where they taught at Gem State Academy for a year. During that time he completed a degree at a nearby college. At the end of that year, they accepted positions at Atlantic Union College, where for the next five years she taught piano and theory, and he served as registrar.

In 1959 they moved back to the West, where he worked in interim positions for two years and she maintained a private studio. In 1961 they went to Sandia View Academy in New Mexico, where she was hired to teach piano for a $100 a month. She not only taught lessons but also accompanied the choir and did other duties associated with teaching in a boarding academy.

They returned to WWC the following year, where Lyle completed a master's degree and worked as a graduate assistant in the education department, and Florence taught piano privately in the community. In the mid-1960s they moved to Maryland to teach at Highland View Academy, a new boarding academy. Within two years Lyle had accepted a position at Columbia Union College, and they moved to the Washington, D.C., area.

Florence commuted to HVA and also Baltimore Junior Academy, continuing to teach piano lessons. By the end of the 1960s she was an adjunct piano teacher at CUC, and by the time they left in 1986, she was teaching lessons half time for the college while also teaching students on her own.

Clarambeau taught a number of talented pianists. One of those, Nelson Hall, is now enjoying a distinguished career in music. During this time she also pursued graduate study in piano performance and literature at the University of Maryland, completing a master's degree at UM in 1976.

In 1986 the Clarambeaus accepted positions at Canadian Union College, now Canadian University College. Her full-time appointment included teaching lessons, piano pedagogy, and music appreciation, and, in the last three years, music history. They resided in the area until 1993, when she retired, and they moved to Creston, British Columbia, a picturesque location near the Canadian border with the U.S.

Florence became known as the preferred teacher in that community and had a number of advanced private students. An outstanding student from that time was Amanda Anderson, a gifted pianist and cellist, who continued study on cello in Europe.

Following the death of Lyle in 2000, Florence stayed in the area until their home, which had a spacious music room that often served as a gathering place for several musical events, was sold two years later. She now resides with her daughter, 'Chelle, and son-in-law, Brad Reed, in Las Vegas, Nevada.


Sources: Interview with Florence Clarambeau, 2008; Atlantic Union College school paper, The Lancastrian, summer 1954, 1; Obituary for Lyle Clarambeau, Canadian Adventist Messenger, March 2001, 26; personal knowledge.