Otto Johann Karl Racker
1908 - 1982
Otto Racker taught violin and directed the orchestra and band at La Sierra College, now La Sierra University, for a decade, from 1938 to 1947. Even though he was only twenty when began teaching at LSC, he had already taught in London and at Newbold College, an SDA school, and was a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he had earned his L.R.A.M. (Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music).
He is credited with being a key figure in developing both the band and orchestra programs at LSC. Although he was primarily a violinist, he was able to teach other members of the string family as well as some of the woodwind and brass instruments.
He was known for his strictness in rehearsal, attention to detail, and his temper. Racker, described as "cosmopolitan" by the 1939 yearbook because of his manner and accent, was a perfectionist and worked long hours preparing for the annual concert given by each ensemble on campus. Melvin S. Hill, who played under Racker, later wrote about him:
Otto Racker, L.R.A.M., a typical fair-haired, hot-tempered German, did much to continue and hasten the growth of the instrumental organizations . . ..† In the place of technical facility he often used his temper to secure results but even so built up quite a following. Part of his popularity was undoubtedly due to his antics. The audience would come to see him perform as much as to hear the orchestra.
The orchestra was the most popular musical group during Racker's tenure, partly because of his conducting. People attended concerts to watch him conduct as well as to hear the music. While his flamboyant conducting may have bothered some, the following observation from the 1944 LSC yearbook best expressed the prevailing view about him and his groups:
True symphonic style and masterful interpretation of the best in music was definitely an asset to 1944's College Orchestra, under the direction of Professor Otto Racker, as it engaged in its most successful concert tour of recent years. Indication of the wide acclamation of its professionally polished presentation was [that] the concert [was] a regular feature on the college lyceum program. Tours to Loma Linda, Los Angeles, San Diego, and other Southern California cities climaxed the concert season.
After leaving LSC, Racker resided in California for the rest of his life. He was living in Arcadia when he died at age 74.††
Sources: La Sierra College yearbooks, the Meteor, late 1930s and early 1940s; Quote from Melvin S. Hillís A History of Music Education in Seventh-day Adventist Western Colleges, a dissertation written by Hill for a D.M.A. in music education at the University of Southern California, 1959, 188-193.