Herbert Archie Work
1904 - 1982
Herbert Work, an accomplished woodwind performer, music teacher, and composer, taught at one Seventh-day Adventist College and three academies and, in later years, assisted with music programs at an academy and three self-supporting Adventist institutions. One of his hymns, "O Shepherd Divine," was included in the 1985 Seventh-Day Adventist Hymnal.
Herbert was born in Santa Rosa, California, on June 27, 1904, the younger of two sons of William Burr and Hope Moore Work, and was raised on a farm. Both his mother and maternal grandfather taught him and his brother during their grade school years. Although he excelled in athletics while attending Santa Rosa High School, music was his real passion and, at age sixteen, he was making a living playing clarinet and saxophone and arranging music for a variety of soloists and groups.
By his late twenties, Work had taken four trips as a musician on ships, playing in dance bands for cruises that included destinations such as Samoa, Australia, and the Panama Canal. On the last of these trips, he read two books, The Marked Bible and The Bible Made Plain, which led to his becoming a Seventh-day Adventist at age 29.
Drawing on his background as a musician, he wrote songs based on his new experience as a Christian. While attending Pacific Union College, he wrote "O Shepherd, Divine," later relating that the inspiration for this hymn came when he was in the woods behind a barn at the school in the 1930s. An alternate version of its origin created a mystery that continues to the present. It would not be copyrighted until 1947. He also wrote an article, "What Do You Think of Jazz?" for the Youth's Instructor in 1936.
Herbert studied with Noah Paulin, a teacher at Pacific Union College, who had come from a similar background before becoming an Adventist. While in the area, he led a band at the St. Helena Hospital for ten years. He then taught music at Gem State Academy in Idaho from 1946 until 1949, when he became band director at Southwestern Junior College, later Southwestern Adventist University. Under his leadership in the next four years, the band doubled in size to over 40. He also formed many smaller ensembles, in some instances joining the students, playing either the clarinet or saxophone.
Work returned to California in 1953 to direct the band at Modesto Academy, a position he held for many years. His saxophone playing at a concert he gave in Glendale during this time led to an offer from a university for him to travel and perform on their behalf; however, he turned it down. He did record a tape (T1-1219) released by Chapel Records, which featured both sacred and secular music.
In 1954, a year after making the move to California, Work self-published Sanctuary Songs, a collection of sixteen of his works. He had also earlier written the music for Abel, a cantata with Bible-based lyrics prepared by Ella Robinson, a granddaughter of Ellen White, which was performed in the 1940s. His wife, Anice Corena Lee, observed in a biographical sketch of him in the Companion to the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal (1985):
Herbert never sat - he was either writing missionary letters or music! Mostly he had his music in his head and just wrote it down, quicker than I can write this - in the car, doctor's office, bus depots, anywhere and everywhere. Then he'd take it to the piano and correct it. He never thought [of] his talent [as] anything special.
After retiring, though plagued with respiratory problems, Work assisted in music programs at Thunderbird Academy in Arizona and three self-supporting schools in Arizona, Tennessee, and Georgia.
He was residing in the Napa Valley when he died at the St. Helena Hospital on December 8, 1982, at age 78.
Sources: 1910 U.S. Federal Census Records, Ancestry.com; Wayne H. Hooper and Edward E. White, Companion to the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal, (Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1988), 238-40, a primary source for this article; See the following two articles about an unresolved mystery surrounding the origin of this hymn: Ida Mae Morley, "The Song," North Pacific Union Gleaner, March 5, 1990, 2; Steve Vistaunet, "The Song," NPUG, April 2013, 46; Herbert Work, "What Do You think of Jazz," The Youth's Instructor, March 5, 1936, 9, 10; Pacific Union Recorder, November 20. 1946, 8; Mizpah, Southwestern Jr. College yearbooks: 1950; 1951; 1952, 22, 93; 1953, 25,108; Atlantic Union Gleaner, July 25, 1955, 7; "Advertisements," North Pacific Union Gleaner, April 15, 1963, 14; "Cantata 'Able' to be given," Pacific Union Recorder, April 23, 1941, 2; "News Briefs," PUR, May 2, 1945, 8; Social Security Death Index, Ancestry.com.