Harold Byron Hannum

1901 - 1985

It is at the organ, as recreator of vast "palaces of music" - so Browning would have it - that professor Hannum most effectively expresses himself. Master of the art and science of music, votary of the highest development of the classics, he has long been esteemed for his cultural influence on religious services and in the department he heads, as well as for his own achievements.

Emmanuel Missionary College 1944 yearbook, The Cardinal.

In his lifetime, Harold Hannum became much more than a keyboard performer with "remarkable skill in technique and an unusually delicate touch," as described in the Washington Missionary College, now Washington Adventist University, student paper, The Sligonian, in January 1927. Hailed in later years as the "Dean of Adventist Organists," he became the ultimate example of how a committed, selfless Christian artist who is totally dedicated to his art and the church can profoundly affect the spiritual experience of countless others.

Harold was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on March 12, 1901, one of five children and the oldest of four sons of Byron F. and Agnes B. Cochrane Hannum. While very young, he studied piano at the nationally noted Oberlin College Conservatory of Music near Cleveland. Following completion of high school, he enrolled at Washington Missionary College, where he attended from 1919 to1923 and completed an AB. While at WMC, he served as a reporter and eventually Editor-in-Chief of the school paper, The Sligonian. He also served for a year as second vice-president of the student association.

He started his teaching career at Southwestern Junior College, now Southwestern Adventist University, in 1923. A year later, he returned to WMC, where he would teach for the next five years. Known primarily as a pianist, he enjoyed enthusiastic student responses in the WMC school paper to recitals that featured exceptional performances of music by J. S. Bach, Chopin, Liszt, Mendelssohn, and others. While at WMC, he completed a B.Mus. at the Peabody Conservatory of Music.

In 1929 Hannum accepted an invitation to teach in the music department at Emmanuel Missionary College, now Andrews University. He became chair of the department In 1934 and in the next ten years strengthened the department and elevated the level of music and musicianship associated with worship services on campus. Students and colleagues respected his "consistently fine artistry on his chosen instruments"1 and were moved by his vesper programs of organ music with readings by his wife, Ethyl Longacre Hannum, and others.

On a personal level, Hannum was known for his genial disposition, his sly wit, and a sense of humor that on occasion led to delightful repartee. And as busy as he was during these years, he completed an M.Mus. at Northwestern University and became an Associate in the American Guild of Organists.

While at EMC, Hannum became deeply involved in developing and producing a new hymnal for the church, becoming known as its unofficial editor.  It was criticized by some upon its release in 1941 as being too “high church,” and by others as having too many gospel songs and poor tunes.  Even though it eventually gained acceptance, he regarded it as flawed, too many compromises having been made. He also thought that it included material that should not have been in a modern hymnal and omitted some that should have been included.  He offered advice and encouragement in the planning stages for its replacement, the 1985 Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal.

Hannum accepted a position at La Sierra College, now La Sierra University, in 1944, where he would serve as organist and chair the music program for more than two decades. A school established only 22 years earlier, it became an accredited four-year college during his first year there.

One of his first challenges when he arrived was the organ used in the church services, a three-manual theater organ with a "horseshoe"-shaped console from the Walt Disney Studio in Hollywood. Its strident and wobbly sounds were not suitable for worship services. Quietly and gradually, Hannum, known for his taste and high standards in music, changed the character of the instrument by revoicing it and making other changes to create a more cohesive sound.

Under his leadership the department flourished as he upheld those high standards and recruited an outstanding faculty. Hannum's presence on the organ bench and influence on other organists in the Adventist church led to higher standards in worship music at LSC and at other schools and churches. In 1955, when the college yearbook was dedicated to him, it observed that in "wielding his power upon the organ, massive titan of sound, he ruptures the air with tone upon tone eliciting depths of latent emotion freeing the soul in release." The final inscription on the page reads "To Professor Harold B. Hannum, who both perceives and interprets beauty . . . ."

It was this openness in dealing with music from an aesthetic and cultural perspective that made him a thoughtful and effective teacher not only in organ, but also in theory and music appreciation classes. Hannum's ability to quietly articulate his views without resorting to dogmatic pronouncements and judgments also enabled him to reason in an effective and down-to-earth way about music in life and worship with those who held other views. He observed in his first book, Music and Worship:

The selection of music for religious services is not a matter of right and wrong. It is a matter of culture and taste. Tastes change and cultures differ. The goal is to use, as far as possible, the songs considered best in the culture in which one lives.2

The church has not only used one kind of music, but has made use of many styles in its services . . . no one kind of music meets the need of all kinds of people. According to his background, culture, and training, an individual comes to associate particular religious feelings with particular kinds of music. 3

While these statements standing alone could be used to justify the idea that any kind of music can be used in worship, Hannum clarified with a caveat in a later book, Let the People Sing:

The problems concerning appropriate church music would be easier to solve if we were to realize that not all styles of music, no matter what the culture, are suitable for the temple of God. Here good judgment and honest appraisal will guide in right choices. A most important principle to apply is that of association. Music that by association reminds one of questionable pleasures will not be appropriate for church. 4

And in his view the matter of making good choices in this area was a personal matter, one that required honest answers to a series of questions:

How does my choice affect my spiritual life?

Does the music exalt and glorify God?

Does it sound more like unsanctified secular music or like music that inspired religious thoughts?

Is the music primarily entertaining and pleasing to me, or does it lead me to contemplate spiritual themes?

Does the music seem appropriate to the atmosphere of the church and does it promote the worship mode? 5

This reasoned approach to dealing with challenges in worship music sometimes frustrated those who wanted a simple pronouncement from someone who in his later years had become a living legend, "an authority" on worship music. I observed this in a class in hymnology that I took from him at Andrews University in the summer of 1967. Hannum's response to those who pressed for "final answers" about appropriate worship music was to respond quietly about aesthetic and worship experiences, and to ask questions which led the class to get beyond their own immediate reactions to music that made them uncomfortable, to deal with larger overreaching issues.

Hannum wrote three books on music and worship, drawing on his many years of experience as a thoughtful church musician and music teacher and administrator. Because the books deal with those larger issues, they are timeless, allowing his voice to continue beyond the end of his life as a quiet, but effective force in the ongoing discussion about music in worship and life.

Hannum retired in 1978. He was residing in Riverside, California, at the time of his death on January 27, 1985, at age 83. He was survived by his wife, Ethyl; two daughters, Elizabeth Fisher and Maguerite Hossler; and four grandchildren.


1.     Emmanuel Missionary College yearbook, the 1944 Cardinal, p.21.

2.     Music and Worship, Harold B. Hannum, Southern Publishing Association ,1969,p. 91

3.     Ibid,, pp. 10,11.

4.     Let the People Sing, Harold B. Hannum, Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1981, p. 17.

5.     Ibid, p. 18.

Sources: References cited in endnotes; Obituary, Adventist Review, 4 April 1985; Cuyahoga County Marriage Records (parent's marriage); !910 U.S. Federal Census; 1924 Southwestern Junior College yearbook, Mizpah; numerous articles and write-ups in Washington Missionary College The Sligonian,1920-22 (student years) and 1924-1929 (quote is from 1 January 1927 Sligonian); numerous articles and write-ups in EMC publications, The Student Movement and The Cardinal, 1929-1944; Numerous La Sierra College articles and publications, The Criterion and the Meteor, 1944-1978. Lake Union Herald, 8 March 1966, 16; 1985 Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal, Review and Herald Publishing Association, 5, 6; Wayne Hooper and Edward E. White, Companion to the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal, 1988, R&HPA,  34-36, ”Personal experience and knowledge.


Books by Howard Hannum

Music and Worship, Southern Publishing Association, 1969

The Christian Search For Beauty, Southern Publishing Association, 1975

Let the People Sing, Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1981