Ruth E. Havstad Almandinger
1897 - 1976
Ruth Havstad Almandinger, an accomplished soprano, was an important pioneer in Adventist college choral work. In her eleven-year involvement with Adventist music education on the West Coast, she taught at one academy and in two Adventist colleges.
Almandinger was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, one of five children and two daughters of Christian and Hilda Havstad, immigrates from Norway. The family moved to Washington state when she was ten, locating first in Spokane, where they became Adventists, and then Richland, when she was twelve. Following graduation from high school in 1916, she attended nearby Walla Walla College, now University, in College Place, where she studied with Grace Wood Reith, a well-known Adventist singer and teacher in the Northwest who was serving as chair of the music department.
Almandinger then traveled to the Seattle area to set-up a voice studio and pursue additional study and career opportunities. She won the Kirk-Towns Scholarship in 1920, a significant accomplishment in the Seattle area and a turning point in her career. She was the first woman vocalist to sing on a Northwest radio station.
During this time she studied with several prominent voice teachers and at the Cornish School of Music, a highly regarded institution. In these years she sang frequently on radio and in clubs and churches, intending to establish herself as a concert artist.
Meade McGuire, an Adventist minister, persuaded Almandinger to teach in the Adventist school system, however, and she accepted a position at Lodi Academy in California in 1926. The following year she was hired by Southern California Junior College, later La Sierra College, where she taught for five years and pursued additional studies in voice and theory at the University of Southern California.
Almandinger had good musical instincts. An attractive young woman with a warm and open personality, she was popular with the students at SCJC and developed a successful choral program that included a chorus, girls' and boys' glee clubs, and, eventually, a select a cappella choir of 28, known as the Choral Society.
Over the next five years, her singing and her groups and their extensive touring established a reputation of musical excellence for the college. One of her hallmarks was presenting a concert each year with a theme that included choral music, solos, and readings. A student wrote the following in the school paper in response to one of Almandinger's recitals:
On Saturday evening, Sept. 20 , students, faculty members, and friends met in the chapel to hear the recital of Miss Havstad, our vocal teacher.
Each number on the program was beautifully rendered. Whether the words were English or not, Miss Havstad made the audience understand the song by the expression she put into it - sometmes gay and lilting, sometimes more solemn and serene.
Miss Havstad’s reading, "The Three Trees," was very cleverly given - Miss Voth emphasizing each statement by a chord or measure played on the piano.
In "Tally Ho" the audience could so clearly picture the angry hunters and so fully sympathize with the weary fox seeking some shelter, that all heartily commended the man who would not tell which way the fox had gone. The other numbers of this group were equally well portrayed
And the last reading—how can it be described? Such pathos and humor, tragedy and final peace, and then the closing touch of "Unanswered yet." Truly, this recital inspired and encouraged all who heard it.
By the time WWC invited Almandinger to return to the Northwest in 1932, she had honed her conducting skills and developed definite ideas about what she preferred in choral sound. She organized an a cappella choir of 30 that traveled extensively and performed frequently, widely praised for its repertoire and the perfection of its singing. She also presented her trademark thematic programs, which proved as popular at WWC as they had been at SCJC. The choir’s participation in Friday evening vespers became a tradition during this time and was frequently mentioned in student publications.
A lyric soprano, Almandinger was praised in reviews of her choral programs and vocal recitals as an exciting performer with "wonderful stage presence" and a "pleasing personality." She was featured as a soloist with the Walla Walla Symphony in 1936 and in that same year directed a community chorus organized by the city of Walla Walla and the Marcus Whitman Centennial Committee.
She left WWC in 1937 after marrying Oliver Almandinger and lived in Spokane for most of the rest of her life. She established a successful voice studio, gave frequent recitals, and, for a while, conducted the Sons of Norway Chorus. Her students won many prizes in the Spokane Music Festival, now known as the Spokane Allied Arts Festival, an annual high-profile event in Eastern Washington.
Almandinger loved children and they loved her, affectionately calling her "Mrs. Dinger." After she had helped Oliver raise his two children from a previous marriage, they divorced and she then continued living and working in the Spokane area for several years. She moved to College Place to be near family shortly before her death in 1976.
Sources: Obituary, Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, 20 October 1976; Southern California Junior College The College Criterion, "An Appreciation of Miss Havstad," (unknown date) and "Miss Havstad Thrills Audience," 25 September 1930; Walla Walla College Collegian, 6 October 1932, "Sacred Concert to be Heard, " unknown issue in 1934; Richland, Washington, newspaper (1932, unknown date), "Music Program greatly Enjoyed," Couer d' Alene Press (Idaho), 19 April 1934, "Sacred Theme," Social Security Records, 1900 and 1920 U.S. Census Records, Interview with Martha Havstad Losey, great-niece of Ruth Havstad.
The Soul of Music
The following was printed in Southern California Junior College's newspaper, "The Criterion," in the early part of 1930, introduced as "From a Chapel Talk by Miss Havstad."
The purpose of my talk is to show that music is the revealing of an inner experience, that it portrays and reflects the thoughts and moods of people and then in turn reacts on people by intensifying emotion and crystallizing ideals into set form.
Music is not just a tune or melody composed by someone because of its own pure and absolute beauty but because it somehow expresses the sentiment, the feeling of the composer, and his feelings are largely molded by the times and conditions under which he lives. He is a part of the people.
Sang in Wartime
We may illustrate by the war song. A whole nation is fighting in self-defense. Its citizens are drawn together in the common interests of self-protection. The spirit of the people is that of patriotism and they are in a fighting mood. A poet or musician, fired by the spirit of the times, draws from his genius the glowing words or martial strains of a war song.
He interprets the sentiments of the people as well as his own sentiments and sends forth a song to be carried on the lips of thousands of people. The song, although it owes its existence to popular feeling, reacts on the people. As they respond to its words, style, and rhythm, their emotions blend with its emotions and their feelings are strengthened and their convictions deepened. The song reveals their own thoughts and feelings to them.
This has always been true - that art is the unfolding of what is inside. When the life of a people, church, or nation is good, its music will he good and ennobling and when the life of a people, church, or nation is evil, its music will be poor and corrupting.
Some solitary genius may arise to uphold a high expression of good thought but he will be popular only to the extent that his purity meets an answering purity in people. It would be safe to say that when a nation as a nation cultivates the best in music and when its noblest musicians are its most popular, that socially and morally, such a nation is in a very healthy state.
In the Reformation
Turn back in thought to the sixteenth century. The place is at a mountain pass on the road to Bohemia. In the bitter cold of winter, a band of Waldensians is struggling toward freedom. For two centuries their people have been massacred, tortured, burned at the stake because they believe in free salvation of faith through Christ. And as this surviving band, half-clothed, half-fed, enter their place of refuge, they burst forth into singing the famous Waldensian Chorus, "Arise O God in power, Plead Thine own cause."
In Bohemia, the Waldensians remained and mingled with and aided the Bohemians in their reformation movement.
During the crusades in which all European countries fought against her, Bohemia, under the leadership of Ziska, never lost a battle. The Bohemians fought with their flails, (ordinarily used to thresh grain) - and their great Hussite war song, "Warriors who for God are fighting, With Him you conquer, Never contemplate flight."
It is said, on one occasion as the Hussites advanced singing with all the intensity of their liberty loving souls, that at those rolling, thunderous billows of music the enemy turned and fled without a blow being struck.
Why is it that the Hussites put an army to flight with a song? Because of the character and significance that lay back of it, because it was conceived in suffering and nurtured through a longing for religious liberty.
Why do the people of oppressed nations sing so stirringly? Why the appeal of the Negro slave song? How is it that the Ukrainians can come over here and sing [the] "Star Spangled Banner" in a way to make us thrill and weep? Because they know what the song means. They know what it means to want freedom.
Let us pass on to Luther's time. Luther, you know, sang for a living when he was a small boy and was a composer of songs. A Jesuit priest said, "Luther's songs have damned more souls than all his books and papers," and it was said of his followers : "The people are singing themselves into the new doctrine."
Fruits of the Reformation
Did you ever stop to think that Bach and Handel were fruits of the Reformation period?
They have written music that is pure, vigorous, beautiful, and enduring. Endurance is the test of quality. They expressed the spirit of their time and age. Give your ear to the beauty of that great oratorio The Messiah by Handel. Feel its greatness grow on you each time you hear it and try to imagine the influence for good that [this] piece has exerted. The trials of the reformation purged men's hearts and elevated them to the expressions of lofty sentiment.
About fifty years later Haydn presented The Creation. When the audience burst into applause after the singing of the chorus The Heavens are Telling, Haydn, who was sitting toward the front, arose, faced the audience and pointed his hand to heaven as an acknowledgement of the source of his inspiration.
Church Music Reflects
Then came the great revival period in the first part of the nineteenth century, when people were deeply stirred and moved to true conversion. From that period we've obtained hymns like Just As I am and Nearer My God to Thee - hymns that will always stir and touch our hearts as long as time shall last. Why? They embody the most sacred feelings and highest regard for religious thought.
The Modern Trend in Music
Let us apply our reasoning to the present. We are living in a scientific age so far as knowledge is concerned but in a sentimental age so far as character is concerned. It is an unrestrained age. People do things because it brings them pleasure regardless of whether duty points the other way or not. It is a godless age, and consequently that reverence for home, love, and God is disappearing and something light and flippant is taking its place. Cheap sentiment flourishes, and anything based on sentiment alone is not healthy.
Well, our popular music reflects its times, songs with cheap and insinuating, sensuous music. The very tone quality used in singing then has the twangy physical sound best to express the sound. Everywhere, popular music is played to entice the mind from spiritual things and to appeal to the physical.
The violins are muted to gliding sensuous strains, the saxophones and the drums beat in hilarious syncopation, and the pipe organ adds its little sentimental runs and the tremolo that is so appealing to the sensuous.
Music in the Advent Movement
Now here we are - a people who are supposed to be different, to have different ideals. We are very careful about what we read; careful about the amusements we attend.
Shall we then take the music that expresses sentiments contrary to our own and adopt it for our needs? Do the thoughts of our minds and the feelings of our hearts find their expression in the popular music of today? If so, something must be wrong.
Boys and girls, the music that you hear and play does influence you far more than you realize. Plato, the Greek philosopher, went so far as to say that music lay at the bottom of all moral training. And the Greek youth were trained by those great philosophers to sing certain types of scales because they brought out more manly qualities than other types. Always, the power of music to influence has been recognized in religion, in love, in campaigns, in war.
The best of earth is none too good to prepare us for the music of heaven. There is so much that is uplifting and beautiful that I wonder why we do not ignore the cheap music.
Good music is bound to make its appeal in time if you will let it, and when it does, you will recognize the slurred music and jazz for what it really is. There is deep intelligence and character in the making of a piece of real music as well as emotion.
Can we train ourselves for jazz here and expect to sing that song which only those who stand on the sea of glass shall learn? Shall we join its harmony with the sensual slur and twang that jazz develops?
The one who teaches that song has a voice whose sound is as the sound of many waters - mellow - deep - full.
Cultivate a taste for the good music, just as you cultivate a taste for good reading. Open your mind to that avenue of pleasure and culture and so prepare yourselves to enjoy more understandingly, that music which bursts from the heavenly choir. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned and good music will be discovered when both the musical and spiritual tests have been developed.