Alan F. Mitchell
Alan Mitchell, trombonist and conductor, retired in 2017 after teaching music for forty-five years, over thirty-five of those as a band director at two academies and a university in the Seventh-day Adventist school system. He started his career in the public school system in southern California, where he taught at both the elementary and high school level and completed it at Andrews University, where he taught for thirty years.
Alan was born in Maryland, the younger of two sons of Albert and Helen Northrup Mitchell. His father was employed by Honeywell Corporation, and the family moved frequently because of his work, living in Pennsylvania, California, and Minnesota. Mitchell recently talked about how he became interested in music and his training as a musician:
We were living in Pennsylvania when the movie The Music Man came out. My brother, John, had started trumpet and after seeing the movie, which featured the song, “Seventy-Six Trombones,” there was only one instrument, the trombone, I was interested in. I was in bands from that point on and in a really good band in Pasadena [California]. When we moved to Minnesota in the middle of my junior year, which I didn’t want to do, they had a good music program, so I continued playing in band until I graduated in 1967.
I enrolled at California State University at Long Beach as a music major with trombone as my performing area, unsure of what I wanted to do. This uncertainty continued to the middle of my senior year when I briefly switched to pre-medicine. That got me far enough out of the music program so that I realized music was really what I wanted to do, and I completed a music education degree.
Mitchell began his music career in 1972 as a teacher in the elementary school district in Fountain Valley, California, where he taught for one year. When his brother, who had been building a band program at John W. North High School in Riverside since 1970, accepted a position at another school in 1973, Alan was invited to follow him as band director and also direct the orchestra program. Through their combined efforts and time at the school they developed an in-depth band program that included strong concert, jazz, and parade ensembles as well as tall flag and drill team units. During this time he completed an M.A. degree at CSU at Long Beach.
Mitchell married Nancy A. Allen, a saxophonist and music major who came from a musical family, in 1974 in a Presbyterian church. Although she had attended Adventist schools when younger they weren't attending any church on a regular basis after they married. They responded to an offer for a free Bible and after a person, by coincidence a former professional musician, delivered the Bible, they took Bible studies and joined the church at the beginning of 1979.
Nancy's brother was teaching at Platte Valley Academy in Nebraska, and when a music position at the school opened within a week after they had joined the church, he encouraged Alan to apply. Mitchell would later talk about the transition from directing a large band program at one of the outstanding high schools in populous southern California to being the music teacher at a small academy in the farmlands of Nebraska and how his career unfolded after that:
Within two or three weeks after we applied, we flew out to the school, interviewed, and accepted the job. The change was a shock in so many ways. I still remember being surprised when at the first faculty meeting of the year, I learned about assigned duties I would have in addition to directing both the band and the choir. It was quite an adjustment. I remember particularly, however, the pleasure I had at one point in working with Moses and Charlene Chalmers, who assisted with handbells and piano.
By the time I had been at Platte Valley for five years and was doing everything in the department, I had almost decided to get out of teaching, feeling that the possibility of advancing in the Adventist educational system was rather remote since I had not come up through that system and nobody really knew about me and my previous experience in the public school system. I was also troubled by the leadership of the school at that point.
Fortunately, my brother-in-law, who had been teaching at Platte Valley, was now teaching at Auburn Academy in Washington and when a position opened there in 1984, I applied for it. When it was offered to me, we accepted. It proved to be a great experience and in my last year there, the band successfully auditioned to perform at the Western International Band Clinic annual convention to be held in Seattle in November 1987. In the spring of that year, however, I applied for the band position at Andrews University and was hired. I regret not being able to direct the Auburn band when it performed that fall at the convention.
Mitchell taught at Andrews University for thirty years. His responsibilities included direction of the Wind Symphony, coordinating music education courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and overseeing the graduate music program. His groups performed throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe, and he also served as a clinician, guest conductor and adjudicator throughout the U.S.
He is pursued a D.M.A. degree in wind conducting/music education at the University of Cincinnati - College Conservatory of Music. His major conducting professors included Eugene Corporon and Mallory Thompson. He has also taken additional conducting studies from Michael Haithcock, Ron Johnson, John Whitwell, and Allan McMurray.
Mitchell has professional memberships with the Music Educators National Conference, now the National Association for Music Educators; College Band Directors National Association; and the International Adventist Musicians Association. He is an honorary member of the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association.
In 2013 He was awarded the Michiana Outstanding Music Educator Award, the only recipient of the seven chosen to receive the honor who teaches in higher education in that region. The award was presented at a luncheon in Plymouth, Indiana.
His wife, Nancy, completed a B.S.in elementary education and English in 2000 at AU. They have three children, Erin, Diane, and Eric, all of whom played instruments when in school. Erin is a nurse, Diane a social worker, and Eric, who is in law school, continues to be involved in computer-related musical activity.
At the time of his retirement the music department presented Mitchel with a Bach 42B trombone, a professional instrument with an F-attachment. He observed at that time that ”I’ve already been to heaven,” referring to his years at AU. He will continue to teach music lessons and do substitute teaching at area schools while pursuing an ongoing interest he has had in photography.
Sources: Interview with Alan Mitchell, October 2012; “Music Program History, A, John W. North High School, http://www.northbsr.com/history.html, 2012, 1; California Marriage Index, 1960-1985; Central Union Reaper, 9 August 1979, 6; North Pacific Union Gleaner, 17 December 1984, 21; Biography at Andrews University music department website, 2012; “Alan Mitchell Receives Award,” http://www.Andrews.edu/news/2013/09/Alan_Mitchel_ Receive.html; Andrews University Alumni Directory, 2003, 307; “I’ve already been to heaven,” Andrews University Focus, Spring 2017, 15; personal knowledge (I have known Alan as a friend and colleague for three decades).