Marvin Robertson, now retired and living in Florida, served as dean of the school of music at Southern Adventist University for over thirty years, a record term in music department leadership in Seventh-day Adventist Schools. Additionally, he was well known for his choral leadership at all educational levels.
Robertson began piano study at age six in the Lincoln, Nebraska, public school system. Margarite Woodruff Widener, piano teacher at Union College, accepted him as a student, and by age twelve he presented his first solo recital at the college.
Three years later, when his family moved to Denver, he continued music study at the Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver. After graduating from Campion Academy in 1952, he attended Walla Walla College, now University, where he completed a performance degree in piano in 1956.
At that time Robertson accepted a position as keyboard teacher and choir director at Auburn Academy, near Seattle, Washington. For the next five years, he enjoyed considerable success there with his academy choirs. During this time he also completed a master's degree in music at the University of Northern Colorado.
Following a two-year doctoral study leave at Florida State University, he returned to the Northwest in 1963 to oversee the music education program at WWC and direct the choirs in the nearby academy and grade school. His choir program grew rapidly, with the size of the academy choir reaching 100 and the grade school program expanding so quickly they had to add another choir.
Because of his special interest in children's choirs, he requested assignment to that level when both programs became too large for one person to run. Robertson's music education classes at the college were considered outstanding. His quest for higher standards and his ability to teach were respected by the students and his colleagues.
In 1966 Robertson accepted an invitation to chair the music program at Southern Missionary College. For the next thirty-three years, he led the music program as chair of the department and then dean when it became the school of music at Southern Adventist University, providing visionary leadership during a time of rapid growth for the school. He oversaw the construction of a new music facility and the completion of a world famous organ installation. Additionally, he achieved accreditation of the music program with the National Association of Schools of Music, a distinction held by just half of the music schools in the United States and six Adventist music programs.
In addition to chairing the music program, Robertson taught music history, church music, music education, conducting, and music appreciation. He also continued his work with choirs, founding the Die Meistersinger Male Chorus in the 1970's and conducting the Southern Singers in the 1990's. During his tenure he also collaborated with the art and communication departments in producing several musicals.
His love of working with children continued as he directed the children's choir at nearby Spalding Elementary School for a number of years. He also served throughout his tenure at the school as an effective and progressive Minister of Music for the Collegedale Church.
Robertson's influence was felt within the larger sphere of Adventist music education as well. He was a cofounder of and a charter member and officer in the International Adventist Musicians Association, a group that is now in its 29th year.
Additionally, in the 1990's he served as a consultant for the first music program in Adventist education in Russia. From 1982 to 1997 he journeyed to that country on eight different occasions, four with music groups and four as a consultant and teacher at the Adventist Seminary in Zaokski. The visits were for extended periods of time and yielded many memorable moments for Robertson and his wife, Jeanie (Patterson), as well as for those at ASZ.
In 1998, he was invited to attend the tenth anniversary of the seminary and was publicly recognized for his important service to them during their beginning years. During those travels and visits he witnessed the remarkable changes in life and freedom that transformed that country in recent years.
Robertson retired in 1999, ending a teaching career that had spanned forty-one years. Six years earlier, the school had honored his work by presenting him with its Distinguished Service Award. In 2004, he was invited to return to SAU during alumni weekend to conduct a reunion of his male chorus. Over 100 former members returned to once again sing under his direction. He was honored during their concert with the announcement of an endowed scholarship in his name. In April 2006, Robertson was feted as an honored alumnus at Walla Walla College during its annual Homecoming Weekend.
He and his wife, Jeanie, retired to Rotonda, Florida, in 1999, where he served as Minister of Music and directed the Chancel Choir for the Port Charlotte Adventist church until 2006. They now reside in San Antonio, Florida.
Sources: Interview, 19 November 1990 and 2002; letter to writer, 17 June 1991; numerous conversations over many years; Marvin Robertson, “A Russian Odyssey: Journeys of the Heart,” Autumn 1997 IAMA Notes, 1-10; Biography in WWC Alumni weekend banquet program, 2006; personal knowledge.