Olga Häntsch Schmidt
Olga Schmidt, pianist and organist, taught at two Seventh-day Adventist universities and an academy during her career. In one of the universities, she founded and directed the first music department at the school.
Olga's father loved music and it was an important part of their life as a family. From her earliest years while growing up in Argentina, she was fascinated by music, often disappearing as she traced down sounds of it she heard coming from the neighborhood, to the concern of her family, who would then go looking for her.
Beginning at age five, she taught herself to play piano by watching her sister practice and then mimicking her after she left the room. Olga started lessons at age nine with Daniel Peris. Under his tutelage in the next seven years at the Beethoven Conservatory of Music in Argentina, she completed the ten-year course in piano with distinction, as well as diplomas in theory and solfeggio.
About this time her parents divorced, and Olga and her sister were sent to live with an aunt and uncle in Paraguay. In the next three-and-a-half years she and her sister had to work hard for extended periods each day. Because her access to that family's piano was limited, she learned the music by studying it closely and then analyzing and thinking about it, visualizing it with her eyes closed. Additionally, she learned each hand separately, without actually playing on a keyboard. In spite of the difficulties of this situation, she completed another diploma at the National School of Music in Asuncion, Paraguay, one that required the memorization of seventeen major works for piano.
Olga then went to River Platte College, where she was employed full time for three years, giving piano lessons and teaching music at the secondary level. During that time she met and married Samuel Donaldo Schmidt, a ministerial student at the school.
After working for ten years in Uruguay and Argentina, where Samuel pastored, they came to the U.S. in 1961 to study at La Sierra College, now University, in California. While they were at LSC, she studied organ with Harold Hannum for two years, her first study on that instrument and an experience she thoroughly enjoyed. From that time on, organ would be her primary keyboard instrument.
Following another year, in which they lived in Loma Linda, they moved to Andrews University in 1964. She completed a B.Mus., with honors, at AU in 1968, three years after enrolling as an organ performance major under C. Warren Becker. A year later she completed an M.Mus, summa cum laude, in organ performance.
Near the end of her study, the Schmidts received an invitation to go to the Montemorelos Vocational and Professional College, now the University of Montemorelos, in Mexico. Because she was just completing her degree and they had three teenagers, she stayed behind while he moved to MVPC to begin his work there. She followed him in 1971 to begin teaching music at the school.
She quickly reviewed what resources were available and discovered a desperate situation. There were no facilities or instruments for teaching music; a small baby grand piano in the seminary was off-limits, and the two remaining pianos were woefully inadequate, one being infested with spiders and other insects.
Not to be deterred, Schmidt started giving piano lessons on her upright piano in her home. Within a short while, she was teaching forty to fifty students. During that time, Morris Taylor sent her a grand piano, which she then used for her lessons. She also taught art appreciation at the college.
The interest in piano study increased, becoming greater than she could handle. At one point, she had four student teachers who, tutored by her each Sunday on how and what they should teach, then gave lessons to as many as 25 students each in the following week.
Among the outstanding students in those early years was Hector Flores. He and his brother, Carlos, would become influential music teachers at Montemorelos and later at other schools. Although Carlos had grown up near the campus, he had left to study at Andrews University the year Schmidt came to the campus. He returned four years later to assist her in the rapidly growing program, having just completed a B.Mus. at AU.
They talked about the need for a more complete program in music, especially since the school had just become a university two years earlier, and discussed and developed some ideas together. Finally, when the Schmidts were on leave during the 1976-1977 school year, Carlos prepared a proposal for a bachelor's degree program and submitted it to administration and the board. It was approved, and when she returned in 1977, she led the new department beginning that autumn.
In 1979 Hector Flores, who had completed a B.Mus. degree at Andrews University that year, also returned to teach, direct the choral program, and start the first orchestra. Three years later, when Schmidt wanted to reduce her load, he became director of music. She and her husband, who had been serving as chairman of the seminary, returned to the U.S. in 1984.
While teaching at UM, Schmidt began work on a doctorate at Northwestern University, completing a D.Mus. in organ performance and sacred music in 1982. Her organ teacher during her doctoral study was celebrated concert organist Wolfgang Rübsam.
Schmidt's dissertation was the preparation of a hymnal for Spanish speaking colleges and universities. She researched hymns from the Adventist heritage and drew on other sources. The result was a collection of 250 hymns.
Upon returning to the U.S., the Schmidts settled in California, where he pastored the Vallejo Drive Church in Glendale for seven years. She taught organ and piano lessons in her home and as an adjunct faculty member at La Sierra and Redlands universities and served as organist in her husband's church as well as in other churches on Sunday. When he retired in 1992, they moved to Yucaipa, where she continued to teach lessons.
Olga continues to keep a busy schedule, giving organ and piano lessons to her grandchildren and playing for church services in the area, occasionally playing at the Loma Linda University and Hill churches. She also serves as a representative and salesperson for Johannus digital church organs in the Inland Empire, which includes the Riverside and San Bernardino area.
The Schmidts have three children, Hernan, Dora Vitrano, and Irene Hoch, all of whom are pursuing careers in the medical field. All three took piano lessons from their mother as children and were involved in music activities when younger.
In November 2007, on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the University of Montemorelos and the 30th anniversary of the founding of the music department, she returned as an honored guest of the university. The music department's growth since it started three decades ago and the new facility in which it is now housed inspired her. She also shared in a recital during that weekend with two other teachers who, like her, had created a legacy in performance that has led to today's flourishing program.
In a ceremony honoring her during her visit, the president of the university presented a plaque of recognition, inscribed as follows:
The University of Montemorelos presents this award of recognition to Olga Schmidt for her modeling of the vision, her spirit of undertaking, and the quality of her unselfish service as founder of the School of Music.
November 17, 2007
Source: Interview with Olga Schmidt, February 2008.