Larry Joe Otto

1946 -

Larry Otto, singer, choral director, and composer, taught for over twenty years in Seventh-day Adventist schools, at three academies and three colleges. He has been involved in music merchandizing since 1991.

Larry was born in Rochester, Indiana, the oldest of three sons of Laurel and Vivvian Otto. Both parents and all three sons were active in music.

He attended Indiana Academy for two years, taking lessons and singing in the choir under Don Runyon. This would be the first of several encounters with music teachers who would inspire and shape his life.  He recently talked about the influence of Runyon and Robert Pound at Broadview Academy in his high school years:

I really got interested in singing and music while at Indiana Academy.  Runyon was a commanding presence, and I liked the way he did his job. I wanted to be just like him and by my second year had decided I was going to be a music teacher. At the end of that year when Runyon accepted a position at another school, I transferred to Broadview Academy in Illinois, wanting to develop friendships with a different group of students and become a little more serious about my studies and spiritual life. My family supported my decision to change schools so my Dad found a maintenance job near Broadview and the family moved to Illinois.

Robert Pound was the music teacher at Broadview and was an organist and enthusiastic choir director who joined with me and two other students to form a male quartet, something I particularly enjoyed doing. He had a side business of repairing pipe organs. I worked with him in the summer and learned about organs and how to rebuild, tune, and repair them. He also guided and encouraged me in my singing and playing of the piano.

Larry graduated from BVA in 1964 and enrolled that fall as a music major at Union College, having been influenced by an earlier visit to the campus when he met Lyle Jewell, choir director, who had taken a real interest in him.  He studied with Jewell for a year and was inspired by that experience. Elmer Testerman, a Westminster Choir College trained director, succeeded Jewell when he went to Pacific Union College at the end of Otto’s freshman year.

I had never really had a strong voice and was interested in voice development. Testerman talked a lot about vocal production.  I also heard tapes of workshops conducted by John Finley Williamson and had heard the Westminster Choir sing in Lincoln during one of their tours. I was very impressed with and mesmerized by the Westminster concept of singing because I was a struggling tenor and wanted to be a better singer. I also had some lessons with Gisela Willi, who had sung for the Voice of Prophecy in Europe. Both Testerman and Willi were helpful in my voice study.

I had sung in quartets all through academy and my big goal was to be a member of the King’s Heralds quartet. Jerry Patton was an older student at Union at that time and when he successfully auditioned for the quartet the year before I graduated, I was impressed. During this time at some camp meeting, I was invited to sing a song with the Faith for Today quartet.  It was a thrilling experience, the height of my quartet singing experience!

I desperately wanted to become a professional quartet singer and made frequent calls to Jerry and to Faith for Today, hoping to find an opening. After Jerry had been in the quartet for a while I visited him in California, still hoping to find a way to join a quartet. While visiting, his wife asked me, “Do you really want to do that? He’s always on the road and never home.” My wife, Sandra, had the same question and I finally decided to turn my energies toward teaching.

Larry graduated from UC with a B.S. in music education in 1968. During his senior year, he won the grand prize for his composition Choral Suite during Kaleidoscope Week.  While he was at UC he met Sandra March, a home economics major, and at the end of his senior year they married. Sandra later pursued training in business and bookkeeping.  They would have two daughters, Marcella and Doreen.  

After teaching at Lawncrest Junior Academy in Redding, California, for a year, Otto was hired to teach at Sunnydale Academy in Missouri. While at SA, he completed a master's degree in music theory and composition at the University of Missouri. His project for the degree, Three Pieces for Orchestra, was performed by the St. Louis Symphony.

He subsequently taught at Indiana Academy, after teaching for a year at the University of Wisconsin, Fond-du-lac, and then accepted a position as voice teacher and choir director at Columbia Union College, now Washington Adventist University, in 1977.  Two years later he began teaching at Southern Adventist College, now Southern Adventist University, working with Don Runyon, where he taught for the next five years.

While teaching at Indiana Academy, Otto was still having vocal problems. He recently talked about how they were resolved:

When I was doing choir and voice at Indiana Academy, I could sing for five or ten minutes and then couldn’t talk for the rest of the day. Although I had always valued the importance of singing musically, knowing the languages, and interpreting repertoire, I came to realize that knowing how to sing was critically important to the whole process.

I wasn’t really blessed with a good voice to start with and had been frustrated with the lack of progress with my voice over the years. Jerry Patton introduced me to Joseph Klein, a voice teacher in Glendale, California, who taught me how to sing and speak properly with resonance and projection.

My first encounter with Klein was at a workshop at Walla Walla College, now University, where Jerry had connived with Klein to get me up front.  He had also encouraged me to raise my hand the moment Klein asked for volunteers in the first session. I did and Klein invited me up and had me start to vocalize.  I barely got started when he stopped me and said to the class, “Now this voice is out of tune with itself.”

That remark was music to my ears. I thought this guy hears something that I am not doing right. It took a long time to correct my problems. Over a period of twelve years I studied with him at least a week and often two weeks at a time each year.  He resolved my problems by helping me understand the physiology of singing and find my true voice, one that now seemingly never tires. In subsequent years I have refined my singing and that of my students and choirs by learning how to couple nuance with the power of that unleashed voice. Klein without doubt was the most influential person I ever had in voice study.   

In 1984 Otto accepted a position as choir director and chair of the fine arts department at Southwestern Adventist College, now Southwestern Adventist University. It was a challenging situation since the music program had recently been reduced to a service department, and he was the only full-time teacher in music.

In his role as department chair, Otto attempted to make the best of the change in status for the department by starting a Ministry of Music program in his second year, a religion degree with special courses in music. He also launched a two-year recording studio program to prepare students for a career in that area.

Even though a $40,000 Josephine J. Roberts Recording Studio was established in Mabee Center to facilitate the program, rapid changes in recording technology as well as limited job opportunities in the ministry of music field led both programs to be phased out after Otto left in 1991.

While serving as chair, he was able to restart a college-sponsored music festival for the academies that had been stopped in 1984 and also hire another full-time music teacher as well as three adjunct teachers. In his time at SWAC, Otto was able to provide a choral program that attracted a large number of students. He performed several significant choral works and presented programs that were well received on campus and in the community.

In 1991 he was invited by Ogden Music in Portland, Oregon, to assist Orland Ogden in running the store. Beginning in 1993 he worked in another music store for a short while and in 1994 moved to Omaha, Nebraska, where he opened, managed, and taught in a Lowrey Organ Center for Critchett Piano and Organ Company, based in Des Moines, Iowa. The following year, he also established a store in Lincoln and then commuted between the two for the next six years.

In the summer of 2001, following resolution of a medical problem for Larry, the Ottos purchased a truck and began working for Federal Express that October.  They had wanted to travel and see the U.S. and Canada and during the next six years traveled together extensively throughout both countries until Larry retired in March 2008. Within the first two years with FedEx they underwent special training and were qualified to deliver explosives and radioactive materials for the U.S. government.

They settled in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where they had earlier built two homes and continued to be active in the Ooltewah Adventist Church where he formed and directed a choir and started a small brass group, playing tuba. He had been active as a piano tuner beginning in his academy years and has continued to do that in retirement, recently beginning to acquire training as a piano technician while restoring a small grand piano in his workshop. He also worked as an adjunct voice teacher at SAU during the 2009-2010 school year.

In 2010 Otto was contacted by the representative for Lowrey in that area of Tennessee, who asked him if he would be interested in starting a class program for Crutcher Pianos in Chattanooga.  In August 2012, he was invited to manage the store and accepted the position.


Sources: Interview with Larry Otto, January 2013; Central Union Reaper, 28 May 1968, 3; 28 July 1970, 8; Columbia Union Visitor, 10 March 1977, 16v; Southwestern Union Record, 5 July 1984, 8; Crutcher Pianos music store, Chattanooga, Tennessee, website biography, 2012;