George Michael Wargo
A virtuoso violist, composer, conductor, chamber music and recording artist, music educator, and music department administrator, George Wargo was principal chair in the National Symphony in the nation's capital for fifteen years and taught in two Seventh-day Adventist Colleges.
George was born in West Hazelton, Pennsylvania, the oldest of three children and the only son of Michael and Minnie A. Koch Wargo. He began his music education at age seven and made remarkable progress. His musical gifts won him a scholarship at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music, where he studied violin with the eminent Russian violinist Boris Koutzen.
At age sixteen he had a successful debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra, playing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. At age nineteen he became principal violist of the National Symphony in Washington, D. C., where for many years he was its youngest member. During his fifteen-year tenure with the National Symphony he appeared as soloist and as guest conductor, conducting the premier performance of his Symphony in G Major.
In 1932 Wargo accepted an invitation to teach at the Peabody Conservatory of Music, a position he held for ten years. During those years he performed in the Conservatory Faculty String Quartet and earned B.Mus. and M.Mus. degrees at Peabody, while still serving as principal violist of the National Symphony.
Midway through that decade at Peabody, Wargo taught for a year at Washington Missionary College, now Washington Adventist University. While teaching there he became acquainted with Seventh-day Adventists, was baptized, and helped with evangelistic meetings in the area. At this time he met and married Audrey Beekman in May 1937, a piano student at the college and an employee at the Review and Herald Publishing Association. They would have one son, Paul.
From 1942 to 1955, Wargo served as chair of the music department at WMC and conducted its Chorale and Orchestra. He also continued performing as a member of both the Washington String Quartet and the American University String Quartet. He completed a D.Mus. at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music in 1946.
From 1955 to 1959 Wargo taught at the University of Virginia, moving from the area when he accepted the chairmanship of the music department at Pacific Union College. During his ten-year tenure as music chair at PUC he was the driving force behind the designing and building of the new music facility, Paulin Hall, and strengthened its graduate music program.
Shortly after arriving at PUC, he became conductor of the Vallejo Symphony, a position he would hold for 21 years. The music editor of the Vallejo Times-Herald observed that Wargo's demanding but inspiring leadership lifted the level of performance and molded the musicians into a very fine ensemble. Although he retired from PUC in 1973 with the rank of Professor Emeritus of Music, he conducted the Vallejo Symphony for thirteen more years and also continued to play, forming the Wargo Trio with Curt Johnson , cellist, and Lynn Wheeler, pianist.
Wargo's compositions include works for piano, voice, chorus, chamber groups, viola, chamber orchestra and symphony orchestra. In addition to his Symphony in G, mentioned earlier, the Vallejo Symphony also performed his Concerto for Strings.
A friend of George Vandeman, Wargo composed and conducted the theme music and other numbers for the It is Written television program. He also recorded for Chapel Records as a soloist and with The Wargo Symphonette.
Wargo was living in Yountville, California, when he died from a sudden heart attack at his home. He was 89.
Sources: Pacific Union College Viewpoint, Spring 2001; Life Sketch read at the time of his memorial service or press release(?); 1920 U.S. Federal Census Records, The Washington Missionary College Sligonian, 22 March 1935, 4; Other online sources.