Gisela Willi-Winandy, a soprano soloist, teacher, and conductor, has promoted music wherever she has resided. Based primarily in Europe, she has traveled with her husband as his assignments led them to live in France, Madagascar, Israel, Switzerland, Italy, England, and Rwanda.
Although Gisela was born in Darmstadt, Germany, when her father was studying theology at the Seventh-day Adventist seminary, she spent her childhood living in Zurich and Basel, Switzerland. An exceptionally gifted child, she was offered free piano lessons, beginning at age four. By age ten, she was accompanying hymns at church.
Gisela studied piano and voice at the Musikschule und Konservatorium in Basel, where she received a professional teacher's diploma in 1948. The conservatory director, impressed by her talent and potential, recommended that she be given a full scholarship for continued study for a Solistendiplom (Soloist Diploma), the highest degree. She completed that program with special honors in 1958.
Starting in 1948 and continuing until 1964, she served as hymn arranger, voice technician, accompanist, and soloist for the Voice of Hope, German counterpart to the Voice of Prophecy. Also starting in 1948 and continuing until 1974, she harmonized melodies being recorded for use in teaching music in French primary schools.
Her work in the recording aspect of this educational program placed her in contact with leading French instrumentalists such as internationally noted trumpet player Maurice Andrť and the concertmaster of the Orchestra de Paris. Gisela played her harmonizations on the piano, while at the same time conducting music ensembles of up to thirteen of these stellar musicians. They noted her potential as a conductor and encouraged her to pursue that area of study.
In the 1964-1965 school year she served as an emergency replacement piano and voice teacher at Newbold College in England. During this time, she also made religious recordings for the Voice of Hope in Paris.
At the end of her stay in England, Gisela was invited to teach in the U.S., at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska. She later talked about her two years at UC and why she left sooner than anticipated:
I enjoyed my time at Union so much. I particularly appreciated the teaching, friendships, spirituality, and lifestyle - I could have stayed there for the rest of my life! But in 1967, I received another type of call from Europe, a proposal for marriage from pastor-evangelist Pierre Winandy.
Since my father had been a pastor-evangelist, I found the proposal attractive and accepted! Even though being the wife of a pastor and evangelist is a demanding and busy life, my husband has both supported and participated in my music career and activities.
From 1969 to 1971, the Winandys worked at the Tananarive Mission in Madagascar, where they found the people to be gifted in many areas, especially music. She worked with a vocal ensemble in Malagasi, the native language, and had them also sing in French. She later described their mission and experience while working there:
Pierre was responsible for the Adventist radio broadcast Voice of Hope. Since his predecessor and he had never had any real response from the listeners, Pierre tried a new type of radio program, called Bible in Hand. In one of his broadcasts, he invited the listeners to have a Bible, ruler and red pencil starting in the next week.
He would dictate five texts each week in a Bible Study and people at home would underline them. If somebody did not have a Bible, we would send one free. To our amazement, 252 requests for Bibles were sent to the studio. Although on state radio, Pierre then took the liberty to ask for financial help from the listeners. So much money came in that not only was the Bible expense covered, we could send them by airmail.
In 1971, we were given notice that we had to leave the island five weeks later. The Union president pleaded that the Bible studies series be completed before our departure. So in five days after school was out, during our vacation, we taped 42 programs. Pierre believed that music lent power to the presentations and liked to begin and end each program with me singing a solo. For the last song, I would have to listen to the presentation and, without interruption, find and sing a hymn corresponding to the topic. As challenging as this was in the time we had, we were able to complete all 42 programs before we left.
While working in Madagascar, Gisela had written to Union College about her fifty-member choir and its lack of robes. Robert Murray, chair of the music program, contacted the E.R. Moore Company in nearby Omaha, which donated 50 used robes and stoles, and the college choirs raised the money to send them the 11,000 miles to that country.
During their time in Madagascar, the Winandys were asked to conduct an evangelistic campaign on the island of Mauritius in the summer of 1970, during what would have been their vacation time. Leaders of that conference rented a thousand-seat auditorium, a move that Pierre thought was wildly optimistic for meetings about biblical subjects. He was surprised when 800 people came to the first meeting and still more came as the meetings were conducted, until on the final night every seat was taken.
Two days before the first meeting, Gisela had organized a local choir to sing at the meetings. The choir's singing was so moving that the state radio asked for a final concert with the choir singing all of the hymns of the ten meetings, which were then recorded and broadcast by their station.
From 1971 to 1973, the Winandys resided in Israel, where she joined the professional choir at the Ruben Academy of Music in Jerusalem. Among the many performances the choir gave with the IsraŽl Symphony Orchestra while she was a member, Gisela was most thrilled and inspired when she sang in a performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, conducted by Daniel Barenboim, in the amphitheater of Cesarea, facing the Mediterranean.
In 1974 she founded Adventus Domini, an organization that included an eighty-voice choir and fifty-member orchestra. Its goal was to convey a spiritual message climaxing with the second Advent through concerts that featured oratorios and other selected sacred music drawn from the legacy of past centuries. It gave numerous acclaimed concerts in Catholic, protestant, and Waldensian churches in Switzerland and France.
Pierre served as headmaster and theology teacher in the French Adventist Seminary from 1975-80. In Gisela's tenure as head of the music department during those five years, she organized four choirs and a program that involved 180 students and twelve part-time teachers. At the Christmas program in 1979, 300 0f the 550 students at the seminary participated in a program that attracted large crowds drawn from the community at large.
While residing in France, Gisela traveled to the U.S. to attend conducting seminars at Loma Linda University in the summers of 1976 and 1977. These seminars, which were conducted by Herbert Blomstedt and Jon Robertson, were highly valued hands-on sessions that attracted conductors from several countries.
In March 1980, the seminary choir was chosen to perform with the Orchestre Saint Jean in a concert celebrating the 60th anniversary of its founding. The concert, held in Geneva's famous Victoria Hall, was a gala event under the direction of the president of the Geneva section of UNO.
The general rehearsal in Victoria Hall scheduled for Friday evening was changed from its original time to accommodate the Sabbath beliefs of the choir members. At the official reception after the concert, Gisela was invited to cut the "birthday" cake as an expression of the organizers' appreciation for the choir's performance.
When the program was repeated again in April in Annemasse, France, just as the conductor was preparing to enter the stage, he discovered one of the soloists was absent. Panicked, he asked Gisela to sing, which she agreed to do, even though she was not familiar with the solo, which was quite extended. The conductor announced from the stage that the program would be delayed a few minutes so that a substitute soloist could look at the part. Both the audience and conductor responded with enthusiastic and prolonged applause following her singing of that solo.
From 1980-1985, the Winandys lived in Italy, where he served as president of the Adventist college and she joined the Maggio Musicale, one of three famous choirs in that country. She participated in numerous non-opera concerts, conducted by world famous conductors. In at least twenty instances, she was able to present the guest conductor with a copy of Ellen White's book The Desire of Ages.
Gisela organized two choirs at the college, which would be combined on occasion to present concerts with a small orchestra. In their five years in Italy, she toured widely with her choirs, giving about fifty concerts in churches of other denominations and performing in venues such as the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
She also toured with a forty-member choir, Aurora Fiorentina (Rosy Dawn of Florence). On one tour, they were attired in both robes and colorful biblical costumes, and accompanied by a twelve-piece orchestra. The group presented traditional classical sacred music in the first half of the program and Moses, an oratorio by J. Livingston, in the second half with a musical interlude by the orchestra between the halves to allow for costume changes.
The oratorio was creatively programmed, the most dramatic moment being when the first row of the chorale prostrated itself on the floor, the row behind them remained standing with hand-covered eyes, and narrator president Winandy slowly and solemnly read the Ten Commandments. This program was presented twice in pew-filled Catholic cathedrals in Cassano and Bari, with audiences of 600 and 1600, respectively, most of them non-Adventists.
Both presentations were presided over by Catholic priests, who led out in the enthusiastic applause at the end of each program. By the end of that year, the choir had performed over twenty concerts in five months in some of the largest cathedrals in the presence of Catholic clergy as well as archbishops, witnessing to over 10,000 persons,
The performance in Bari led to an invitation from Archbishop Andrea Mariano Magrassi to perform a concert for an event in the cathedral at which the pope would be present. In his letter of invitation, Magrassi wrote that they would pay for two buses for the trip and provide accommodations that would include vegetarian meals without alcoholic beverages.
The pope was unable to attend and sent a cardinal to represent him. At the end of the concert, the cardinal stood up, went to Gisela and congratulated her with both hands, in front of a standing ovation by the 1600 listeners who had filled the cathedral.
In all her programs, including Moses, she ended with music about Christ's Second Coming. In a second similar program, Behold the Lamb of God by Krugar, the focus was on the Savior, an emphasis she regarded as important in what has become a "post-Christian" culture.
In 1985, the Winandys went to Newbold College in England, where he had been appointed curator and director of the Ellen G. White Research Center and would teach theology and archeology classes. In that position, he presided over major events in eight European countries in 1987 that celebrated the centennial of E.G. White's first visit to Europe.
Gisela again organized a choir, Adventus Domini, which was invited in 1988 to sing for a yearly concert presented by an organization called Bridge. This unique program uses well-known celebrities to befriend prisoners during their incarceration and later assist them in getting jobs to ease their transition back into society when they are released. Every year there is a concert given when the benefactors are revealed to the prisoners.
At the end of the performance, the head of the organization, Princess Alexandra, who is assisted by the chaplain of the queen, broke usual protocol when instead of leaving immediately following the concert at St.-Martin-in-the-Fields, she insisted on shaking hands with Gisela and each member of the choir. Gisela recently recalled what happened next:
Immediately afterwards, I conferred with the director of the Adventist publishing house, who was a member of the group, about what we could do to show our appreciation for her generous and affirming act following the concert. We decided to give her a unique copy of the Desire of Ages. So, the next morning when the press opened, a copy of the book was specially bound in leather and taken to her residence.
In the next mail we received a kind thanks, signed personally by the Princess. She had decided that in the next year the concert would not be shared with other groups but would only feature Adventus Domini. That practice still continues in the present, the group now being conducted by Sandra Rigby.
Winandy then became Dean of the theology faculty at the Adventist University of Central Africa, where Gisela also organized a music department. She formed two choirs, lectured on the history of sacred music in the theology program, and taught 53 private lessons. They had to leave the country in 1992 because of the civil war in Rwanda and returned to Switzerland, where he was pastor of a church in Zurich until they retired.
Following the return of the Winandys to Switzerland, Gisela was asked to restart Adventus Domini. Reasons for consenting to do so included not only the opportunity for witnessing that the group provides, but that the offering taken at the end of the concerts would be used to support an orphanage in Rwanda. The orphanage, which started with 75 children, now has Hutus and Tutsis learning to live together without ethnic barriers and prejudice.
Since Adventus Domini was restarted in 1992, it has given over 100 performances of famous works by Haydn, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Gounod, and others. It has also given concerts with themes such as Psalms through the Centuries and Handel's The Messiah, in Music, Image and Words, using masterpieces by famous painters and text projected on the screen during the playing of the music. Bible texts linking the episodes are often read in dialect, which has more meaning than the Luther translation usually heard in church services.
Another multi-media program, Nature, was also developed and given which introduces the first angel's message: "Worship the Creator." A third, "Jerusalem Yesterday . . . Jerusalem Tomorrow," a history of the city, its prophets and kings, and the heavenly Jerusalem with its King, is presently in preparation, with a premiere scheduled for November 26, 2011. Because the programs are intended to create interest in non-Adventist churchgoers, they are given mostly in Protestant and Catholic churches and only occasionally in Seventh-day Adventist churches.
When concerts are performed, Gisela requests that no applause occur. After the final number, the "Hallelujah Chorus" from the Messiah, when applause inevitably happens, she raises a hand towards heaven, acknowledging the true source of all inspiration. She then asks for silence and invites the congregation to listen to the singing of The Lord's Prayer before leaving the sanctuary in reverence and meditation.
Sources: biographical information provided by Gisela Willi-Winandy, February 2011; additional Information provided in a letter from Gisela and Pierre Winandy, June 2011; Review and Herald, 23 September 1965, 21, 10 February 1972, and numerous other issues; Pierre Winandy, "French choir gives two concerts with well-known orchestra," Adventtist Review, 26 June 1980, 23; Betty J. Jochmans, "Adventists present programs in Italian cathedrals," Adventist Review, 14 April 1983, 15,16; "Chorale assists in missionary project," Central Union Reaper, 2 February 1971, 4; Comments made to me by Opal Miller when I taught at Union College from 1968 to 1979.