Lyle Quentin Hamel
Lyle Hamel, now retired and living in Yucaipa, California, was destined to spend most of his life involved in music. In his career, he would teach music at six academies and two colleges in the Seventh-day Adventist school system.
Hamel was the youngest of four sons born to Irene Flentie and Mahlon (M.G.) Hamel. He was raised in a musical family where both parents were involved in music, the father as a band director and the mother as a talented amateur musician who played both organ and accordion. All of the children were given music instruction from an early age and three sons - Louis, Paul, and Lyle - would enjoy careers in music.
Lyle started playing in the Bethel Academy, now Wisconsin Academy, band when he was in the fourth grade. By the time he graduated from BA eight years later, he had distinguished himself on both sousaphone and clarinet, winning numerous first place awards in state solo contests. He later talked about that experience:
I was in fourth grade at Bethel Academy when Dad taught me how to play an instrument called a mellophone, which played mostly off-beats against the tuba's beats. Although shaped like a French horn, it was much easier to play. From that beginning, I progressed to other instruments in the next eight years at Bethel, including the clarinet and the tuba. Many of us band students at Bethel won first places in music competitions during those years.
When Hamel arrived at Emmanuel Missionary College, where John J. Hafner was band conductor, he was assigned to the sousaphone and, in his first year, featured as a soloist on the instrument in the band's spring concert. During those college years, which were interrupted by army service during World War II, he was also featured several times as a clarinet soloist with the band.
When he graduated from EMC in 1949 with a degree in science and teaching certification in agriculture, biology, and chemistry, he was hired to be farm and dairy manager and teach agriculture at Broadview Academy in Illinois. He was invited to assume direction of the band shortly after his arrival. Although initially Hamel declined that invitation, he reconsidered and said yes, with the condition that the academy send him to Vandercook College of Music, where he could begin formal training in music.
In 1952 he accepted a position at Wisconsin Academy. Hamel directed the band, taught 60 private lessons, taught two classes in agriculture, and when needed, assisted in the harvest at the farm. In spite of his schedule and continued graduate study at VCM during his first two years there, he created an outstanding band, one year winning first place in both performance and sight reading at a regional competition.
In 1955, a year after he had completed his master's degree at VCM, he was invited to Forest Lake Academy in Florida to start a band program and be head of the music department. During the next four years, Hamel created a thriving band program that included an academy ensemble, with numerous school-owned instruments and uniforms, plus large feeder programs in the elementary schools at the academy and in nearby Orlando. Additionally, two years after he started at FLA, he initiated a statewide music festival for SDA elementary and junior academy students, hosted by FLA, that continues today as the oldest music festival in SDA music education.
Southern Missionary College approached Hamel in 1957 about conducting its band. He declined, but two years later, when approached again, accepted. For the next five years, he directed the bands at the college and the nearby academy. The college band grew during his leadership and concerts became popular events played to large and enthusiastic audiences. While at SMC, he helped establish the Southern Union Music Festival, an event that continues today.
In 1964, Hamel, intrigued by the challenges in school administration, accepted the principalship at Sheyenne River Academy in North Dakota. The change was ultimately not one he felt comfortable with at this point in his life, however, and when the chance came to direct the band and chair the music department at Pioneer Valley Academy, a new school in Massachusetts, he enthusiastically responded. He thoroughly enjoyed the challenges and rewards of working with the students at PVA and with fellow music teachers Lilya Wagner and Leroy Peterson, but as leadership at PVA changed, support for the school declined, enrollment fell, and reductions in faculty occurred.
When Hamel was contacted in the summer of 1971 by Newbury Park Academy to come there to direct the band and be in charge of the music program, he accepted. Leadership and faculty changes in his first year there led to a request that he also conduct the choir when the next school year started. That summer, the tragic death of the Pacific Union College woodwind teacher, Richard Stumbaugh, who also directed the band at the college academy and assisted with the college band, led to an offer for Hamel to fill that position.
This would be his last position as a music teacher, because of a hearing loss that began during this time. Although he would complete his teaching career as an administrator, he still remains active in music. During his years as a music teacher, Hamel started eight bands and taught at seven academies and two colleges. In 1997, he and his wife, Helen, were invited to return to Forest Lake Academy where he was guest of honor at the 40th anniversary of the elementary and junior academy festival he had started. They were invited for a return visit in 2003.
Source: Interviews/conversations with and email messages from Lyle Hamel; Strike Up the Band, unpublished autobiography by Lyle Hamel; 1930 Census Records; Personal Knowledge.