Mable Ida Waller Tormoehlen
1905 - 1989
Mable Tormoehlen, a lyric soprano, noted voice teacher, and conductor, enjoyed a long career as a singer and teacher in the Portland, Oregon, area. She became a Seventh-day Adventist in the late 1930s and was very active in Adventist music as a soloist and conductor.
Mable was born in Killarny, Manitoba, Canada, and spent her childhood on a farm. Wanting to live a life other than farming, she went to a finishing school in Saskatchewan, where she won a scholarship to the Toronto Conservatory. She completed a performance diploma and then became a member of the Chicago Opera. While there, she studied with Mark Daniels, a well-known teacher of that era. At age 25, she left the opera and traveled to the Northwest, where she studied with Cavalloni (?), a former member of the Chicago Opera.
Although no longer active in opera, she continued to sing in light opera productions in Portland, Oregon, and in churches. She met her husband, Fred Tormoehlen, in a Methodist church where both sang in the choir, and they married when she was thirty.
Mabel's brother had become a Seventh-day Adventist through an evangelistic effort in Canada. Her only child, a daughter, Betty (Lawson), recently related how he converted her mother and she then became involved in Adventist music:
He had a dream about her and felt impressed to travel by steerage to Portland so he could tell her about his newfound faith. She also had had a dream about his coming and was ready to listen. She was an astute person who had a knowledge of history and after just two days of intensive study, was convinced. After some follow-up study with Pearl Stafford, a well-known Bible worker in that area, she joined the church.
Pearl also put her in contact with Dr. Holden [William B.], a physician whose daughter, Margaret, was a musician. This led to my mother's involvement in music in the church. She became active in evangelistic meetings and sang in several efforts with prominent evangelists of that time, including the Venden brothers, Dan and Melvin, who were also fine musicians. She was the first soloist to sing in the Quiet Hour radio broadcast.
Tormoehlen sang frequently at art festivals and in recitals and the church. Even though her daughter became a professional singer and had a voice with a similar timbre, they never sang duets.
She became a noted voice teacher whose students became accomplished singers. One of her students enjoyed a successful career in opera, becoming a singer in the La Scala Opera house. Even though she never gave her daughter formal lessons, the child was influenced by what she heard her mother telling her students and incorporated those ideas into her singing.
During World War II, Tormoehlen and her husband, a baritone, would travel from Portland to Gold Beach, Oregon, a well-known center for popular music, where they would join in the music making. Although she had never studied piano, she could play by ear and would join in, playing with jazz groups and popular swing bands conducted by nationally noted pop musicians of that era.
She was also known to use her gift of honky-tonk style piano playing when she would go with SDA ingathering groups into taverns. Although it was an unorthodox approach for soliciting money in that setting, the patrons, delighted with her playing, responded with generous contributions.
Tormoehlen conducted the choir at the Sunnyside SDA Church for several years. She and Margaret Holden Rippey, an organist and pianist, worked together in music at Sunnyside for many years before retiring at the same time, when younger capable musicians became available. She was residing in Hawaii at the time of her death at age 83.
Source: Interview with Betty Tormoehlen Lawson, September 2011; Obituary, North Pacific Union Gleaner, 1 May 1989, 24.