Robert James Borrowdale

1921 -2021

Robert Borrowdale, an accomplished violinist, taught strings and conducted the orchestra at Emmanuel Missionary College, now Andrews University, from 1950 to 1955. Known for his expressive and sensitive playing as a soloist, Borrowdale also upheld a high performance standard for the orchestra and worked for perfection. The students respected his insistence on producing quality music and appreciated his genial manner and ready wit.

Borrowdale\'s training on violin started at the age of seven, when his paternal grandmother came from England to visit the family while they were serving as missionaries in Puerto Rico. At that time, his parents bought a violin for him and he began taking lessons.

He traveled to the U.S. in 1937 to continue his education at Mount Vernon Academy in Ohio. Fortuitously, John J. Hafner, a gifted violinist and charismatic teacher, was the music teacher at that time at MVA. He became a major influence on Robert, giving him violin lessons and providing inspiring music activities at the school.

When Borrowdale\'s older sister graduated from MVA, and his parents retired at the same time to the Berrien Springs, Michigan, area, he transferred to Emmanuel Missionary College, where he completed his senior year in academy, and then started college study. Hafner, who was then teaching at EMC, continued as his primary mentor and violin teacher. In his time at EMC, Borrowdale played in the orchestra and various chamber ensembles, one of which was a trio that included Paul Hamel, clarinetist, and Perry Beach, pianist.

Following his graduation from EMC in 1942 with a B.A. in music, Borrowdale was inducted into the army, serving until 1946. He was in the medical corps and was stationed in the U.S., mostly in Virginia, during his tour of duty. He had taken his violin with him when he entered the service and played in a large army orchestra in Virginia that toured extensively on the East Coast.

He then traveled to Southern California, where he started graduate study at the University of Southern California and married Jean Andersen, a nursing student at Glendale Hospital whom he had met at EMC three years earlier. He completed an M.A. in music, and was working on his dissertation for a Ph.D. when, in 1950, he received and accepted an invitation to return as a teacher to EMC.

While teaching at EMC, Borrowdale returned to USC in 1952 and successfully defended his dissertation, The \'Musices Liber Primus\' of Diego Ortiz, Spanish Musician. Ortiz was an innovative sixteenth-century composer, and the collection that Borrowdale transcribed and discussed in the dissertation was a group of works for four to seven voices based on plainsong.

In 1955, the Borrowdales moved to Battle Creek, Michigan, where he taught English in a public high school. He declined an offer to teach at Washington Missionary College, now Washington Adventist University, choosing instead to stay in Battle Creek, where he and his wife had purchased a home and he had a teaching position. Although no longer teaching music, he continued to play violin, serving as a member of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo orchestras. During this time, Borrowdale also became involved in residential construction with his father-in-law. 

In 1965, he began studying law at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, completing a J.D. in 1968. Upon the family\'s return to Battle Creek, he established a law practice specializing in real estate. Although he still practiced in the evenings and played an occasional solo in church or at weddings and funerals, he no longer played in orchestras because of vision problems.

The Borrowdales had two sons, Robert, an M.D., and Gregory, a dentist, both residing in California. An avid tennis player in his earlier years, Borrowdale continued to play racquetball on a regular basis with a group of friends and professional colleagues. Given his age and his status as senior member of the group, he was known good naturedly as "Methuselah." He continued to practice law until 2010, when he was 89. Following Mary Jean\'s death in 2019, Robert moved to Folsom, California to be close to family, where died on December 23, 2021, at the age of 100.


Sources: Interview with Robert Borrowdale, 2007; Obituary heights-ca/robert-borrowdale-10505955