Melvin Smith Hill
Melvin Hill was a progressive music educator who taught at two academies and two colleges in the Seventh-day Adventist school system. While serving as chair at Union College and Pacific Union colleges, he achieved accreditation for both of their programs with the National Association of Schools of music (NASM), an achievement matched by only one other SDA music chair, James Bingham, at Atlantic Union College and Washington Adventist University.
Melvin was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on September 21, 1922, one of four children of Benjamin Rush and Irene Pearl Smith Hill. Hill began French horn study at an early age. After graduating from Withrow High School, he attended Andrews University for two years before serving in the Pacific Theater during World War II. He married Jean Moncrieff at Berrien Springs, Michigan, on December13, 1943. Following the war, they enrolled at La Sierra College (now university) in 1945 as the war ended and he completed a B.A. in music in 1947.
That fall Hill started his teaching career at Newbury Park Academy in California, where he taught for the next four years. While there he worked on a master's degree in music at the University of Southern California, completing it in 1953.
The year before he completed his master's degree, he had moved to Lodi Academy, where he taught until 1957. At that time he accepted a position at Pacific Union College to direct the band program. Two years later, he completed a DMA at USC and was nominated into Pi Kappa Lambda, national music honor society. His dissertation was "A History of Music Education in Seventh-day Adventist Colleges."
In 1960 Hill was invited to conduct the band and chair the music department at Union College. Aware of Melvin West's efforts to gain accreditation for Walla Walla College's music program with the National Association of Schools of Music, Hill immediately set about to do the same at UC. In 1965, he succeeded, when UC, after WWC, became the second Adventist college to achieve that distinction.
While at UC, he increased the music faculty, oversaw an expansion of the music facility, and updated and expanded the department's inventory of instruments. In addition to conducting the band, he participated and led out in chamber music activities and started a French Horn Ensemble. An organized and efficient administrator, Hill was a pragmatist, known for his candor and for his follow-through with projects. He was highly regarded at UC for his accomplishments.
In 1969, he and his wife Jean Moncrieff, an accomplished violinist and pianist and a gifted artist who had earned a master's degree in art, moved to Pacific Union College, he to chair the music department and she to teach art. Hill immediately set out to gain NASM accreditation for PUC's music program. He accomplished that goal in 1971, becoming one of a select few music administrators nationally to have successfully led two schools to accreditation with NASM.
Hill was particularly interested in foreign and ancient music instruments and did extensive research on Basque recorders. A woodworker, he also constructed a harpsichord.
For several years, Hill served in the summers as the music director of a camp in Ohio. He also directed and adjudicated bands and orchestras in numerous festivals, both in the Adventist school system and in public schools.
In December 1973, he and Jean were enroute to Australia, where he was to conduct a music festival at Avondale College, when they stopped for a visit in the Fiji Islands where he had served in WW II. While in a boat traveling between two islands in that group on December 10, Jean’s birthday, 100 mile-an-hour cyclone winds suddenly arose, capsizing the boat in shark-infested waters. Although 41 of the passengers survived, 54 others, including the Hills perished. He was 51 and Jean was 52.
In the memorial service held at PUC on January 12, 1974, the Hills were praised for their high ideals and friendliness, and for their dedication to their two children, Douglas and Pamela, their friends, and the arts. His ability to listen and his eagerness to help solve problems were noted, she was singled out for her cheerfulness and sense of humor.
Sources: 1930 and 1940 U.S. Federal Census Records, Ancestry.com; U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946, Ancestry.com;
Michigan Marriage Records, 1867-1952, Ancestry.com; Information about Hill’s places of employment and graduate education dates are from a NASM Faculty Record Report he completed on September 1, 1972; A copy of Hill’s dissertation is on file in the Heritage Room at the James White Memorial Library at Andrews University; Personal Knowledge, I was the ninth full-time music faculty member to be added in 1968 and taught at UC until 1979,serving as chair of the music department in my last three years there and then at WWC from 1979-2000; "Two Teachers Feared Lost in Storm," Pacific Union Recorder, 7 January 1974, 7; N.P. Clapham, "Two Talented Lives Lost in Fiji," Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, 1; February 25, 1974 "Cargo Ship Sinks, 2 Locals Missing," unknown source; Memorial Program, Pacific Union College, January 12, 1973; “In Memoriam” page in printed program for the 5th annual 1974 Union College Music Clinic Festival; Jean Hill was a graduate of La Sierra College, and completed a master’s degree in art at the University of Guanajuanto in Mexico (Pacific Union Recorder, January 7, 1974, pg. 7);
As per usual progression in the process, PUC became an associate member in that year and then advanced to full membership in 1973. “Music Department Becomes Full NASM Member,” Pacific Union Recorder, December 17, 1973, pg. 7; Aileen Kyle, “A Friend Remembers the Hills,” clipping from the PUC school paper, unknown date.