Lon Clyde Metcalfe
1888 - 1970
Lon C. Metcalfe from his earliest years was a talented singer. In his formative years, he studied with Herbert Witherspoon, a leading opera singer who later became president of the Chicago Musical College and the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. Metcalfe was invited to sing in the chorus at the Metropolitan Opera but declined because of Sabbath conflicts.
Instead, he became a singing evangelist after becoming a Seventh-day Adventist in 1917, a work he pursued for eleven years before accepting an invitation in 1928 to direct the choir and teach voice at Walla Walla College. He quickly established a reputation at the college as a superb choir director and an accomplished singer with a fine tenor voice. The school paper at that time mentioned that he had earlier "directed a chorus of 500 voices at the Chicago Orchestra Hall and the productions were acclaimed by critics as worthy of the Chicago Apollo Club [a famous Chicago chorus that existed from 1872 to the 1970's]."
Metcalfe not only directed the WWC choirs, he also sang with three students in a popular male quartet that enjoyed a large following. Besides his many conducting, teaching, and singing commitments, he chaired the department during his three years at WWC. He also established the first a cappella choir at the college.
He moved to California in the 1930's, where he developed a reputation as a fine voice-builder and coach. He spent some time in the San Francisco area teaching voice and singing with two physicians who were also tenors, Drs. William Kim and Milton Denmark, in a trio called the Tenor Tones. Those who heard them compared their sound to a later famous group of three operatic tenors called The Three Tenors.
In 1947 he was invited to coach the Voice of Prophecy King's Heralds quartet. He arrived at a troubling time for the music department at the VOP. When he attempted to conduct the quartet as it sang, they resisted, feeling it interfered with their ability to develop a feeling for ensemble. He also enlarged the number who would sing in the quartet and then just prior to the program would announce which four would be singing for that broadcast. The association with the VOP proved unworkable, and Metcalfe left after two years.
In his early 60's when he left the VOP, Metcalfe continued to sing and successfully teach until his retirement. He resided in San Jose, California, until his death in 1970, at age 82. In an interview in 1989, Alta Harmer Meldrum, who had accompanied Metcalfe's groups when she was a student at WWC and had later enjoyed a career as a professional accompanist, observed, "He was probably one of the most outstanding directors of large choral groups that I have ever known. As a group teacher he was excellent. His glee clubs, quartets, and chorus were superb."
Sources: 1929 and 1933 Mountain Ash, Walla Walla College yearbook; Alta Harmer Meldrum, interviews, 15 June 1989 and 6 August 1990; Carol Mayes, email, 23 November 2003; obituary, Review and Herald, 6 August 1970.