Perry Wardwell Beach

1917 - 1990

Perry Wardwell Beach, composer and inspired theory and composition teacher, taught at three Seventh-day Adventist colleges, chaired their music departments at times, and composed numerous works.

Beach was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, on October 24, 1917, the younger of two children and the only son of Frank Wardwell, a postal worker, and Addie Maude Buckle Beach. He started piano study at age four, showed interest in composing music when he was five, and was performing his compositions publicly at age eleven.

Following two years of study at San Bernardino Valley College, he attended the University of Nebraska, where he completed a B.S. in music education in 1939. He completed an M.A. in music theory and composition at Eastman School of Music the following year and thirteen years later, in 1953, a Ph.D. in the same areas, studying with noted American composers Howard Hanson and Bernard Rogers.

Beach started his teaching career in 1940 at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, where he also chaired the music department. During WW II he served in the U.S. Army for three and one-half years (1942-46) and following his discharge from the Army in February 1946, he accepted a position at Emmanuel Missionary College, now Andrews University.

In June 1949, he married Marilyn Mae Gibbs, a talented marimba player and percussionist, who had just graduated from EMC. They would have four children.

Beach left EMC in 1957 for a position at La Sierra College, which merged with Loma Linda University ten years later to become known as LLU, La Sierra Campus. In his 24 years at La Sierra, where he was the first music teacher with a doctorate, he was regarded as one of the university's most distinguished professors and respected as a composer of numerous works. He retired from LLU in 1983.

In 1970 he traveled to Fontainebleau, France, where he studied composition under Nadia Boulanger, internationally famous teacher of many 20th century composers. A listing of his works includes a symphony (1987), a piano concerto, piano sonata, suite (Jericho Suite), an oratorio (Then Said Isaiah), and numerous smaller works.

In 1980 he began a collection of works written by Adventist composers for the purpose of research and performance. This is now housed in the La Sierra University library.

A beloved and admired teacher and colleague, Beach was honored with the LLU Faculty Appreciation Award in 1982 and the LLU Distinguished University Service Award in 1983. A Perry W. Beach memorial fund for student missionaries was established at the time of his death in San Bernardino, California, on August 22, 1990, at age 62.


Sources: Faculty Curriculum Vita for Beach on file in the La Sierra University library; 1920, 30, 40 U.S. Census Records; Social Security and California  Death Indices (Although his listed middle name in some instances was Wardell, official death records state it as Wardwell);  SBN Family Tree,; Lake Union Herald, July 26, 1949 (wedding); additional biographical information and the program notes for his Symphony, which follow the next biography by Dorothy Minchin Comm, were provided by Joelle Gouel, editor of Les Cahiers Liturgiques; Wayne H. Hooper and Edward E. White, Companion to the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal, 1988, Review and Herald Publishing Association, pgs. 227, 228; handwritten note to International Adventist Musicians Association (IAMA) about his collection of SDA composers' works, January, 1984.


Perry W. Beach

1917 - 1990

Dorothy Minchin-Comm

Perry Wardell (sic) Beach was just two-and-a-half years old when he first climbed up onto the piano bench and started his keyboard work, there in the family home in Lincoln, Nebraska. He taught himself to read his sister's music books, and his father built up the piano pedals so that he could reach them. Formal music lessons began at age four, and he gave his first recital at five. By the time he was eleven, he was performing his own compositions. At fourteen he and his mother joined his sister in California. She had become a Seventh-day Adventist, and that was the beginning of the family's connection with the church.

His serious academic life began at the University of Nebraska (B.S.Ed. in music education, 1939). He then moved to graduate studies in music at the Eastman School of Music (MA in Music Composition, 1940). At age twenty-two he began his teaching career at Union College. He was always proud of four years of service in the U. S. Army, including ten months as a company clerk in a field hospital in Normandy, France.

Before he could be posted to the South Pacific, World War II ended, freeing him to accept a call to join the music faculty at Emmanuel Missionary College (now Andrews University) in Michigan. In 1951 he moved his wife, Marilyn, and three-month-old son, Paul, into a converted army barrack in Rochester, New York. Using the GI Bill, he studied for his doctorate in composition. He completed the degree in 1953. Four years later he joined the music department of La Sierra College.

The year 1966 proved to be an eventful one for the family, which now included four children. They accompanied a group of forty-four students to study in Europe (at Darmstadt, Germany, and Collonges, France), a broadening experience for them all. On a later European trip, Perry studied composition with Nadia Boulanger at the American School of the Arts in Fountainbleau, France.

Perry Beach's professional output is impressive: many works for chorus, solo voices and instrumental ensembles; a symphony; numerous recordings and hymns. He also received two faculty awards. During his years at what is now La Sierra University prior to his retirement in 1981, Dr. Beach made many significant contributions to the Music Department.

Unlike others who dread retirement, Perry embraced it with zeal. Now he would have more time to compose music and print it on his new computer. He also made a major collection of the works of Adventist composers. He loved his church dearly, serving as elder, Sabbath School teacher, public address system technician, and even as receptionist in the church office.

His interests, worthy of a "Renaissance man," were never confined to music alone. His early engineering interests survived in his ability to help his sons (or anyone else) repair a broken-down car. Sometimes his wife, Marilyn, teased him, "You won't enjoy heaven because there won't be anything broken there for you to fix.

Perry also joined the Palomar Nature Club. He liked camping - in desert, on mountain or by the sea - and enjoyed planning trips at home and abroad. He nurtured his rose garden. He spent hours with his amateur radio. And he "papered" his music room with fine exhibits of his camera skills.

Following two heart attacks and triple bypass surgery, he died at Loma Linda University Medical Center on August 22, 1990. Those who knew him prized him as a teacher who inspired his students to their best, as a versatile family man, and as an impeccable Christian gentleman.

Once Perry had been an impatient, critical, and intolerant young man who demanded perfection of himself and everyone else around him. But, by the grace of Christ, he became a mature Christian - gentle, accepting and loving. When he spoke of the great choir to be formed on the Sea of Glass to sing the song of Moses and the Lamb, his eyes would sparkle. "Now, that is the choir I want to write for!"

Reprinted from the Spring 1991 issue of Adventist Heritage with permission from La Sierra University.


Program Notes by the Composer on his Symphony


Symphony No.1 tends to be light-hearted in mood, although there are a few serious moments, such as at its very beginning, and in some of the themes of the second and fourth movements. Its form is quite classical: The first movement is in modified sonata-allegro form, the second and third are in three-part song form (ABA), the third being a fast-moving scherzo, and the fourth movement is in a modified rondo form.

The symphony is cyclical in that the same three-note motive which opens the first movement is found again in the second movement and is further developed there. The work shows several different influences: use of a 16th century church mode (Dorian) for the scale of the first movement; chromaticisms and complex harmonies related to some popular music (use of the "blue" note, for example) in both the choral and orchestral parts of the second movement; quartal melodies and harmonies in the third movement; use of dissonance's in the final movement, especially those of the diminished octave, the second, and the seventh; with some of the scales being doubled at the ninth rather than at the usual perfect octave; and several jazz breaks for the brass instruments.

Some of the unusual features of the work include:

1. The use of a women's chorus (SSAA) in the second movement somewhat in the style of Debussy`s Sirenes from his Nocturnes

2. The use of the composer`s autograph in the melody of the second movement: B-E-A-C-H ("H" is B natural in the German.

3. The use of the solo piano in the third movement, much as it might be used in a piano concerto. The melody here is based on a well-known tune, but with its melodic intervals expanded.