Robert R. Tupper
Robert Tupper, organist, pianist, and harpsichordist, taught organ and music theory at Walla Walla College, now University, from 1972 to 1979. Through the years he has been active as a church musician in Seventh-day Adventist and other churches.
Robert was born in Portland, Oregon, the son of Myron D. and Roberta L. Cotton Tupper. Following his father’s graduation from the engineering program at WWC in 1953, the family relocated to Illinois and then to Indiana, where Robert attended Indiana Academy. He established a reputation as a keyboard player and an accompanist during his three years there.
When the family returned to the Northwest in 1964, Robert transferred to Portland Union Adventist Academy, now Portland Adventist Academy. Following his graduation in 1965 Robert enrolled at WWC, where he pursued a B.Mus. in organ performance, studying with Melvin West, and also piano, studying with Richard Randolf and Bruce Ashton.
He pursued an enriched program, taking a number of non-required religion and history classes, worked as an accompanist for Harold Lickey, choir director, and served as organist for the First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Walla Walla, in addition to practicing more than the required hours for both organ and piano. He was the Northwest regional winner of the American Guild of Organists Young Artist Competition in his senior year.
Following his graduation in 1969, he enrolled at the University of Oklahoma and studied organ with Mildred Andrews, piano with Lyle Powell. and music theory with Gail Boyd de Stwolinski. He completed an M.Mus. in organ performance in 1970. While completing his degree at UO, he served as a graduate accompanist at the university and as organist and choirmaster for the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. He would subsequently study organ with Nita Akin, Robert Anderson, Marilyn Keiser, and Catherine Crozier.
Tupper was inducted into the armed forces in the August 1970 and would spend nineteen months as an Army medic, stationed in Germany for over a year. In 1972 he was hired by WWC to assist in teaching organ and music theory.
During the next seven years, he was active as a recitalist, playing on campus and touring widely. In 1973 he gave a performance at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, which was reviewed by Ellsworth Peterson, SU organist and musicologist, who praised Tupper’s accuracy, choice of registrations and sensitivity to musical form. He singled out his performance of Alain’s Deuxieme Fantasie as a highlight of the evening.
During this time he also formed a recorder ensemble that performed frequently on the campus and in the area. On a personal level, he married Michele Nicole Swan who had a daughter, Rene, from a previous marriage, at the beginning of his last year, in September 1978.
After leaving WWC, where he had been advanced in rank to assistant professor three years earlier, Tupper resided for a brief time in Walla Walla, working with Lloyd Hazelton, a highly skilled machinist and an excellent teacher. He later moved to Oregon and trained as a tool and die maker at Rayco Tooling. He enjoyed the creative aspects of this trade and pursued work in this area that allowed him to explore the design and engineering side of the craft.
When he returned to the Portland area, he worked with his father on inventions they had talked about over the years and on projects related to the trade. At that time he and his father invested in some equipment to develop and manufacture some of the ideas they had worked on. This evolved into an independent business that has been involved with a number of complex projects.
Robert and his wife are now located in The Dalles, Oregon, and are currently running the business at a greatly reduced level (called “semi-retirement’) and are only taking in work that requires the application of the experience and skills they have gained over the years. This has allowed him to take lessons on piano and resume practice and playing the organ and the harpsichord.
He believes that his work is leading him back towards teaching and mentoring – both in the field of music and the use and applications of the newer computer programs related to tool and die work.
Throughout the years following his departure from WWC, Tupper continued to be involved periodically as a church organist and accompanist in Oregon and Washington in Seventh-day Adventist and other churches. Most recently he serves as an organist on occasion at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in The Dalles, Oregon.
Sources: Interview with Robert Tupper, 11 September 2013 and email from him, 6 November 2013; North Pacific Union Gleaner, 7 July 1969, 16; 18 September 1972, 26; 17 December 1973, 14; 19 April 1976, 32, and 2 November 1987, 18. WWU music department faculty records (1976); and online sources (2013).