Vinson C. Bushnell

1936 -

Vinson Bushnell, pianist and musicologist, completed degrees at Southern Missionary College, now Southern Adventist University; Eastman School of Music; and Harvard University. He taught at two Seventh-day Adventist colleges and, with his wife, Anne, ran a well-known record store in Bloomington, Indiana, for many years.

Although Bushnell was fascinated by music, beginning in his childhood years, he did not begin to study piano until he was in the sixth grade and his father was teaching at Forest Lake Academy in Florida. At that time, he studied with Charles Pierce for a year, until his parents went to Medellín, Colombia, as missionaries in 1948. A year later, they moved to Puerto Rico, where his father served as principal of its Adventist academy.

In his second year in the academy, Vinson enrolled in the Free School of Music in San Juan, a school funded by the government that offered study in all areas of music, including lessons in many instruments and music theory. He dropped out of the academy in what would have been his junior year and spent all of his time at the music school.

Curiously, circumstances were such in his early school years that he never graduated from grade school or academy, and did not take any English classes in his high school years. He later explained, "I was just overlooked. I just went from grade school to academy to college without registrars paying attention."

Bushnell entered Southern Missionary College in 1953, where he pursued studies in pre-medicine for two years. He changed his major to music at that time and continued for three more years, graduating in 1958 with a B.A. in piano. Margarita Dietel Merriman, a theory and piano teacher, was an important influence in his life at that time, and today he still considers her as one of his finest teachers.

Bushnell applied for and was awarded one of the first Woodrow Wilson Fellowships for graduate study, a prestigious award which covered all expenses for a year at any graduate school. The purpose of this program was to make it possible for gifted students to continue their studies and become teachers in higher education. The fellowship enabled him to enter Eastman School of Music, where he completed an M.A. in theory in 1960.

When I interviewed for the fellowship at Vanderbilt University, the committee asked me if I planned to go to Vanderbilt. I said "No, I don’t plan on going here. I plan to go to Eastman." When I had applied for the Woodrow Wilson, I had not applied to any school because I couldn't afford to go unless I got a fellowship. After I got the award, I got a letter and application papers from Eastman saying, "We understand you are planning to come to Eastman. You really should apply."

At Christmas time in 1958, Bushnell married Anne Lambert, a childhood friend from Florida. A pianist, she had graduated from La Sierra College, now La Sierra University, with a B.Mus.Ed in 1955. Just prior to their marriage she had been teaching at Southwestern Junior College, now Southwestern Adventist University, for two years. While there, she had completed an piano at Southern Methodist University in 1959.

Bushnell began his career teaching piano and theory at Southwestern Junior College, in January 1960. Following three-and-a-half years at SWJC, he entered Harvard University in the fall of 1963, to begin work on a Ph.D. in music. Except for his first year at Harvard, he had yearly teaching fellowships along with four named scholarships, during his five years of study at Harvard, two being the John Knowles Paine and the Percy Lee Atherton.

Bushnell accepted a position at Walla Walla College, now University, for the 1968-1969 school year and began teaching in January 1969, with Anne having taught his classes in the fall quarter of 1968. He taught at WWC until 1972, when he left to establish a stereo equipment store with a friend in Bloomington, Indiana, a move intended to allow him more time for his dissertation.

Three years after arriving in Bloomington, the Bushnells opened The Glass Harmonica, a record store located near Indiana University that became nationally noted for its service and depth of offerings. They continued operating the store for over twenty years, until 1996. When national vendors such as Barnes and Noble and Borders came to Bloomington, it became difficult to continue the business.

With the closing of the store, Vinson first worked halftime at WFIU, Indiana University’s radio station, for a year. In that year he also started to work in computer support for the university, which he enjoyed and pursued until he retired.

During the early years in Bloomington, Bushnell had completed his degree at Harvard when his dissertation, Daniel Read of New Haven (1757-1836): The Man and His Musical Activities, was accepted in 1979. Read was a post-Colonial era psalmody composer and compiler of tune books.

One of Bushnell's conclusions was that Read's only possible profit from his music activity came not from composing, but from the publication of tune books. Bushnell later spoke of the difference between Read and his contemporary, William Billings:

As a composer of well-liked church music, Read was more popular than William Billings, who was better known. More of his compositions were republished in other publications than Billings'. Unlike Billings, who never married and traveled up and down the coast, teaching singing schools and publicizing himself, Read was not as visible and did not travel as widely, residing mostly in Connecticut.

Through the years in Bloomington, Vinson and Anne have enjoyed playing for themselves and friends and, occasionally, with others in chamber music. More recently, after a hiatus of several years, they resumed playing duo piano music for their own enjoyment. While their children were given opportunities in music, only one, David, has pursued a career as a professional musician, playing principal horn in the state orchestra of Galicia, Spain.

Although he initially retired in 2001 because of illness, Vinson returned to work for a short while before fully retiring in 2004. In retirement, the Bushnells have traveled extensively in the States and to Spain and Portugal.


Sources: Interview and email exchanges with Anne and Vinson Bushnell, October and November 2007; Walla Walla College school paper, The Collegian, 23 January 1969 and other articles.