Music at Union College
An Historical Overview
Union College is one of only two Adventist colleges still using its original name. At the time of its founding, in 1891, nearly a third of the church's total membership worldwide lived in the region it would serve, the vast midsection of the country between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. Given the number of Adventists in that region and its potential for growth, church leaders were easily persuaded to establish a school there. Its location in Lincoln, Nebraska, came about because that city, anxious to have another college, offered more enticements than its nearest competitor, Des Moines, Iowa.
From the start, music was an integral part of school life at Union College. Besides lesson offerings, there was spirited singing in worship services conducted in English, German, or Scandinavian, an ethnic division of students maintained in the school's early years. Also, students passed between classes by keeping step to marches played on a piano placed so that it could be heard throughout the Administration Building.1
Although lessons in keyboard and voice were listed when the college opened in 1891, the first keyboard teacher was not hired until the following year and the first voice teacher not until 1899.2 Music was listed as a department for the first time in 1902 along with a roster of three teachers and offerings in voice, keyboard, theory, and chorus. Two years later a "School of Music," directed by Buren Shyrock and staffed with four others, was created that added instruction in violin, mandolin, and guitar.3
Shryock, a graduate of Battle Creek College and a student of its well-known teacher, organist Edwin Barnes, chaired the department from 1904 to 1908. He held strong convictions about the role of music in worship, referring to work in that area as a "demanding stewardship." One of his students, Oliver S. Beltz, inspired by Shryock's vision and commitment, impressed his teachers and was invited to teach at UC in his final year of study.4
By the end of the first decade, yet another name, "Conservatory of Music," and mention of a Church Music Program appeared in publications.5 Whatever the designation, music succeeded in those early years at UC because of its talented faculty, many of whom were keyboard teachers.
Carl Engel, a teacher from the opening years of the 20th century, would become a key player in the department's fortunes. He was 24 when he began to teach at UC in 1909. Although he had completed only a year of music study at Yankton College, he was a skilled performer on violin, which he had started studying at age ten, and on trumpet, which he had supposedly played in a circus band.6
Shryock had been hired when college enrollment had exceeded 400 students for four years. Although it had dropped to under 350 in his first year, by 1908 it had rebounded to almost 600. This large enrollment, which included both high school and college-age students, had led to overcrowding.
The president of the college began urging younger students to attend the academies established near their homes. That encouragement, and a decision in 1909 to move the college's Scandinavian and German programs to seminaries specializing in those languages in Hutchinson, Minnesota, and Clinton, Missouri, respectively, starting with the 1910-11 school year, cut the enrollment in half in the fall of 1910.
Steps were taken to stem the debt that began to accumulate. College programs were reduced, teachers' salaries were frozen, and a massive campaign was launched to pay off the debt. Recruitment efforts were redoubled and some academies agreed to limit their offering to no more than the tenth grade.
While all of this helped, enrollment did not increase quickly enough to offset expenses. That, coupled with a regional agricultural depression that began in the 1920's, only to be followed by the Great Depression of the 1930's, led to massive debt, threatening the very existence of the college. On two occasions, in 1923 and 1925, the board in desperation voted to sell the school, but could not find a buyer.7
Surprisingly, during these troubled years the music program thrived. When the seminary in Missouri had opened in 1910, Beltz, who had been teaching in California, was hired to teach music. The college noted his success and, in 1915, hired him to chair the music program, while Engel moved to the seminary that fall.8
Beltz immediately set about to build a strong program. Aided by the fact that enrollment was again beginning to climb, by the spring of 1917, over 125 students, not including those in ensembles, were taking music.9 Weekly recitals were being given, a chorus of 70 was presenting two to three concerts a year, an orchestra existed, and a campaign to raise money for a new seven-foot Chickering had led to the acquisition of the college's first grand piano. Additionally, an Artist Series sponsored by the department that year featured noted artists of the time: a singer, a pianist to introduce the new instrument to the campus, and a celebrated string quartet.
Engel returned in 1920 to assist. Even though the school had over 500 students the year of his return, the largest enrollment since 1908, within three years the enrollment dropped to 347, creating a financial situation so precarious the board made its first attempt to sell the school.
In the midst of that decline, Beltz requested a one-year leave to complete a degree at Northwestern University. The leave, granted without pay, became permanent when he was hired by Northwestern upon graduating the following year.10
It was during this time that Slinga de Ink, the most enduring of six songs associated with UC over the years, was introduced. The tune was a Coe College song that was given new words by UC student Louis Niermeyer. A quartet he was in introduced it to the campus and it caught on. It survives today as delightful nostalgic pep song known by anyone associated with UC.11
Engel, who had completed a music degree at UN in 1920, assumed leadership of the program. Over the next quarter of a century he came to symbolize the department, respected for his artistry on the violin and admired for his genial and kind personality. Through those years he led the program at intervals, conducted the band and orchestra, played in a string quartet, and when necessary, conducted the choir.
Beginning in the 1930's, the president of the college, M. L. Andreasen, assisted by Engel, established a meditative Friday evening vespers tradition that became known throughout the Adventist school system and was widely copied. Following a brief subdued song service, a string ensemble played Tread Softly while the platform participants entered. A responsive reading, an interlude of string music, and a prayer preceded the unaccompanied singing of a hymn. The service ended with a vocal solo, a string number, and a brief talk.12
During this decade the school became an accredited senior college. Although the first accredited music degree was awarded shortly after that, diplomas and unaccredited BA's had been awarded for several years.
During these years the music program was housed on the second floor of the Administration Building. In 1936, it was moved to the fifth floor, literally the attic of that building, an area that had become known as the "Castle" when used earlier as a boy's dormitory.
Three teaching studios, a rehearsal room, and eight practice rooms were created in one end of this high-ceilinged, cavernous space. The musicians were pleased with the larger quarters and the rest of the campus was delighted in the reduction in sound created by this isolation.13
With the ending of World War II in 1945, the college voted to build a music building. Although the projected cost was $45,000 plus $15,000 for furnishings, the actual cost of the building alone reached $87,000. The student body, excited over the prospect of a real music building, raised $15,700 in the first four weeks of the fundraising campaign, a record for the college.
Engel, who had been part of the department for over 30 years, personally presided over the move to the new quarters in 1946. Even though the building, with its five studios, two classrooms, 18 practice rooms, rehearsal area, and 100-seat recital hall, was a source of pride for the school, it was overcrowded that fall when 600 students of all ages enrolled in music, 400 of them in lessons. By the beginning of the following year, the music faculty numbered ten and a full-time librarian helped coordinate activities in the program. The building was named for Engel when he retired in 1948.14
The choirs, which had started with an impromptu group formed to sing in the college church when it was built in 1894,15 had flourished during the Beltz years. He set a high performance standard and presented a number of major choral works, including UC's first performance of the Messiah in 1920. When he left in 1922, Engel and voice and piano teacher Estelle Kiehnhoff assumed direction of the choral groups.16
The arrival of Stanley Ledington in 1929 launched an innovative and productive era for the choral program. In his first two years, he formed a small vocal ensemble to sing English madrigals, organized UC's first men's and women's glee clubs, and restarted an a cappella choir that had been dropped three years earlier.17
When Ledington left in 1937, Kienhoff again assumed direction of the choir and would direct it at intervals for the next seven years. In 1944, Adrian Lauritzen, a highly regarded teacher at Maplewood Academy, came to direct the choirs and lead the department. His inspired leadership sparked excitement in the music program. The college was disappointed when he had to leave at the end of two years to care for his parents.18 Harlyn Abel became choir director two years later, in 1947.
Abel, a veteran teacher who had been born in the Midwest, was an experienced director, having taught for sixteen years at La Sierra College. He toured widely with the choir, even taking members from it to attend Westminster Choir College in the summer of 1949. Near the end of his time at UC he formed the Golden Cords Chorale, named after the UC tradition of hanging a golden cord for each graduate who was serving as a missionary. It was later renamed the Golden Chords Chorale.19
Because of the interest in the choral program in the five years immediately following World War II (1945 -1950), students Herbert Hohensee, Wayne Hooper, and Harold Lickey assisted in voice instruction and choral ensemble leadership. All three men would pursue careers in music and make significant contributions in Adventist music.
J. Wesley Rhodes, Abel's successor, led the choirs and also served as chair of the department for nine years, from 1951 to 1960. Three years after he arrived, he formed a select choir named the Unionaires. It was an immediate success and, in the half-century since, has become famous for its outstanding singing.20
A number of persons assisted in the vocal/choral program through the years. Evelyn Lauritzen, William Haynes, Gisela Willi, Nancy Grotheer, Eloise Hill, and others strengthened that area of the program.
Aside from Buren Shryock, who taught from 1904 to 1908, most keyboard instruction was given by part-time teachers, usually women, in the early years. Teachers with significant terms of service in the first half of the century included Etta Bickert Andrews, Maudie Hartman, and Marguerite Widener. Perry Beach, who taught piano and theory in the early 1940's, began his career at UC. He and Harold A. Miller, who taught at UC for two years, would become well-known Adventist composers. Beach wrote the music for the UC vespers hymn, We Give Our lives in Service.21
Opal Miller, piano and theory teacher, arrived at UC in 1947 just as the new music building was completed. By the time she retired 30 years later she was a legendary and beloved theory teacher. Betty Christensen substituted for Miller from 1952 to 1958, when Miller took a leave to care for her parents.
While organ lessons were listed as an offering when the school opened, students didn't have access to a pipe organ until the college church was built in 1894. Its two-manual instrument was used until the 1950's when an electronic organ replaced it.22 A small Wicks pipe organ was installed in the Engel Hall recital room in 1960, primarily through the efforts of Eleanor Attarian who taught in the keyboard area from 1956 to 1962. Catherine Brown Lang, later Titus, also taught organ and music theory from 1958 to 1960.
Although there were bands and orchestras from at least 1909, their progress was uneven in the early years. The band, when it existed through the 1920's and 30's at UC, was regarded as a group to entertain and create enthusiasm and school spirit. As the 1940's dawned, however, American bands began to play more serious music composed by British composers.
Engel, who had directed the group for several years, was aware of this trend, and started making changes. According to the 1940 yearbook, he set about "to replace the entire 'march' repertoire with modern band arrangements and simple overtures."
Following Engel's retirement, Raymond Casey, a talented former Navy bandsman who was at UC for only one year, and Charles Watson, who led the group for four years, aggressively sought to make the band a more polished and popular ensemble. Their efforts, which coincided with a post-World War II doubling of UC's enrollment, led to greater visibility for the band and an increase in its size.
From the turn of the century, the orchestra assisted in worship services and accompanied choral works and concertos for recitals. From 1926 to 1928, it was featured on a weekly program broadcast by Lincoln radio station KFAB, along with a male quartet and a twenty-minute talk. The response of one faraway listener spoke of the impression the orchestra made in this setting: "I often enjoy your program, but the Union College Symphony last night, January 8, was certainly fine - about the best music I heard last night from anywhere."23
In those early years, its choice of music for secular programs, following the practice of orchestras at other schools, was decidedly light, with a mix of popular overtures, suites, and marches. Because of their exposure and participation in so many aspects of campus life, the orchestra and the chorus were regarded in the 1930's as two of the most outstanding aspects of the music program.24 Casey's and Watson's direction of the orchestra in the late 1940's and early 1950's led to a larger, more active group.
When H. Lloyd Leno arrived in 1953, he built on the work of these two men. He introduced the band to newer concert music, joining the nationwide effort on the part of school band directors to elevate the image of that ensemble. Melvin Johnson conducted the orchestra in the late 1950's and early 1960's.
Additionally, Leno, working with music chair J. Wesley Rhodes, organized the first college-sponsored academy music festival, referred to as a clinic. First held in 1960, during Leno's last year there, it continues today as a rewarding experience for the academies and the college.25
The 1960's were years of growth and significant change in the music program. When Rhodes and Leno left in 1960, Melvin S. Hill was hired to chair the department and direct the band. The first person with a doctorate in music to teach at UC, he arrived with definite goals.
He set about to revise the degrees and prepare the department for accreditation with the National Association of Schools of Music, a distinction claimed by less than half of the music schools in the U.S. Using NASM's expectations as justification, Hill increased the size of the faculty, pushed for an expansion of the music facility, and upgraded school-owned instruments.
He achieved accreditation in 1965, a distinction the department would retain for the next two decades. The expansion of the music building, a condition for gaining accreditation, was completed in 1967. It was accomplished by constructing a connecting two-story structure between Engel Hall and the nearby library building.26 Most of the upper level was allocated to the department and used to create a choir room, classroom, and a studio for the vocal/choral person.
Lyle Jewell, singer and choir director, and Robert Murray, a pianist, were two of Hill's first faculty additions. In addition to being the primary teacher in piano, Murray also taught music history and would eventually serve as music chair from 1969 to 1976.
He would construct the school's first harpsichord, a two-manual Hubbard French Double, completing it in 1979, and be a major force in the installation in 1984 of a three-manual Rieger pipe-organ in the college church.
Lanny Collins joined the faculty as organist in 1966, following Marvelyn Lowen, who had been at UC since 1963. Robert Walters, a violinist, was also hired at that time to conduct the orchestra and teach strings and theory.
The final additions in faculty occurred in 1968 when Naomi Jungling and I were hired, justified in part by NASM guidelines, and by optimistic enrollment projections for the college. She assisted in piano and theory, and I directed the band and taught woodwinds. With these two additions the full-time music faculty numbered nine, one of the largest ever at UC.
The choir program during the 1960's benefited greatly from the leadership of Lyle Jewell, a talented singer and charismatic conductor, and Elmer Testerman, a dynamic teacher and director, who followed Jewell in 1965. Following Testerman's departure in 1971 and an interim year when Orville Shupe directed, Lynn Wickham was hired to conduct the choirs and teach voice. It was the beginning of the longest tenure in choral leadership in UC's first century.
Wickham built on the work of his predecessors. In his 14 years at UC, the Unionaires became widely known for their professional-level singing, the result of his superb instruction in voice and concept of choral sound.
Like Leno, Hill sought to do a more sophisticated level of music with the band. He particularly enjoyed the concert repertoire penned by earlier British and contemporary U. S. composers. Wanting to create a more sophisticated image for the group, he named it the Concert Winds.
When I assumed direction of the band in 1968, I continued in the same vein, dressing the group in more formal attire and adding some of the challenging concert works of the late 1960's and the 1970's.
A large concert band for on-campus concerts was created in 1973. With the Concert Winds as its core, this group grew to 96 members, a record number for the band up to that time. From 1975 to 1977, the Concert Winds did a series of national tours during America's Bicentennial, giving 34 concerts while traveling over 15,000 miles in 30 states.
Unfortunately, in 1968, the year the music faculty had increased to nine, a prolonged decline in school enrollment started. When Hill and a voice teacher left the following spring, they were replaced, but a year later, when three persons left, two were not replaced. Six years later, in 1976, Opal Miller retired and another teacher left, leaving five full-time faculty. Additionally, all secretarial support had been cut during the past few years.
That fall, I became chair of the department. When asked, Opal Miller graciously agreed to continue teaching theory on a half-time basis. This and other changes enabled the department to retain its accreditation for another ten years when it was reviewed in the spring of 1977 by NASM.
Two years later, when I left to lead the music department at Walla Walla College, Robert Walters, who had left UC in 1972, was invited to return as chair. Walters' acceptance was conditional, based on concessions in staffing that would enable him to develop the program that he envisioned.27
When Walters' had left seven years earlier after developing a large orchestra and string studio, interest in the string program had declined sharply. This loss of feeder had had an adverse effect on the size of the orchestra, which had been conducted in the interim by Ellis Olson, an accomplished horn player who had replaced Hill as brass teacher.
When Walters returned, he immediately formed the Lincoln Civic Orchestra, a large ensemble that provided a performance opportunity for both college and community musicians. Subsidized heavily by the college, it was an immediate success and for the next five years was a major part of Walters' outreach into the community.
He increased the full-time music faculty to six and added a full-time executive secretary, Annalee Schander. He also hired a large number of part-time faculty and aggressively sought to make UC music a focal point for music in Lincoln.
Like the orchestra, the choirs, under Wickham, also played an important role in promoting the college. They were often featured with the Nebraska Chamber and the Lincoln Civic orchestras. In 1982, the Unionaires toured for five weeks in Eastern and Western Europe, performing in notable venues before large audiences. The trip ended with an acclaimed performance in the Notre Dame Cathedral. And, as they had been doing since his arrival in 1972, Wickham's voice students continued to bring honor to the college by winning numerous competitions.
Francis Wada, a gifted conductor hired to teach brass in 1979, conducted the band for four years. During that time he also sought to develop a civic wind ensemble modeled after the LCO, but left in 1983 when offered an orchestral conducting post in Massachusetts.
In 1981, Melvin West, noted organist and teacher who had taught at three other Adventist colleges, came to UC to perform, teach music, and serve as Director of Development and Alumni Affairs. He subsequently served as organist for the College Church for a number of years.
West's performances, along with those of Walters, Anthony Pasquale, a faculty member and outstanding clarinetist, and Ryan Wells, an alumnus and accomplished pianist who had joined the faculty in 1979, created a high level of visibility for the college. Also, Walters and his son Robert, an oboist, collaborated with Murray and his son Robert, a cellist, in a chamber group known as the "Roberts IV" which toured extensively throughout the Midwest for three years. KUCV, the college's radio station, which prior to Walters' arrival had adopted a classical music format, also became closely allied with the department's outreach in the region.
When Walters' tenure ended in 1985, the department had enjoyed one of its more colorful and productive eras, one noted for its performance activity and community outreach.28
By the mid-1980's the continuing decline in college enrollment and serious overruns in the college budget, some of which were associated with the music program's recent activities, had created massive debt. Draconian cuts in faculty were made across campus.
Tragically, all of this took place when the department was in the midst of a troubling transition after the departure of Walters, two other teachers, and the secretary. Full-time music faculty fell to four and the department became part of a newly formed Arts and Humanities Division, chaired by someone outside of music.
Although Ryan Wells was unofficial spokesman for music, it was not an effective working arrangement. Finally, in 1992, at the insistence of the art and music faculty, their areas were combined as a separate division, to be chaired by Wells.
During his time as spokesman and then chair of the Fine Arts Division, Wells was a conciliatory force within the program and an effective voice for music at critical moments on campus. He fought to preserve the integrity of its offerings during a time of financial austerity on campus and worked to create unity in the department.29
Daniel Lynn had assumed leadership of the choral/vocal program in 1986, when Wickham had left shortly after Walters' departure. Steve Hall also joined the faculty that year to direct the band. Both would serve record tenures in their respective areas.
In the next fourteen years, Hall developed a program that by 1998 included a band of 103, largest in UC history, a remarkable accomplishment since the band had been canceled the year before his arrival for lack of interest. While at UC, he toured extensively, taking a select band, the Golden Cords Wind Ensemble, and the Brass Union quintet on several national and international tours.30
Amy Crabtree, first woman band director at UC, followed Hall in 2000 and directed the group for three years. Rudyard Dennis, a woodwind specialist, assumed direction of the group in 2003.
Lynn had previously taught at Southern Oregon State College and Montana State University. Noted for his musicianship and enthusiastic leadership in the choral/vocal program, he has consistently attracted a large number of students.
One of the outstanding choral events during his time at UC was a Unionaire's reunion held in 1997. Over 200 past and present members of that group, conducted by Jewell, Wickham, and Lynn, provided one of the most memorable musical events in the school's history. Their Saturday evening performance ended in an instantaneous and prolonged ovation with numerous curtain calls.
From the time of the school's centennial in 1991, an event celebrated with numerous musical events, through the middle of that decade, enrollment hovered at between five and six hundred. In spite of this, college debt was significantly reduced.
With the introduction of new academic programs in the final years of the 1990's and a dramatic increase in enrollment, the college totally eliminated its indebtedness and returned to less restrictive budgeting. Capital purchases, such as a new Steinway grand for the college church in 2000, construction of the Ortner Center in 2004, a focal point for numerous activities on campus, and planning for new buildings, including a Fine Arts Center, have lifted morale on campus. As this century begins, spirits are high and there is optimism about UC's future.
Lynn became chair of the department in 2001. He has enthusiastically embraced the college's vision for needed change on campus and is committed to further strengthening a program that he believes is providing a good experience for its music students.
This summer, the Engel Hall recital room was completely renovated, creating a superb acoustic setting for intimate recitals. He and his faculty are encouraged by that renovation, administrative support for the music program, and the prospect of a new fine arts center. They are excited about both their present music program . . . and its potential for the future.31
1Everett Dick, Union, College of the Golden Cords (1967); 37-39, 49; Dick writes,"...the marching feet in cadence made the whole building tremble."
2First Annual Calendar(1891); Union College Calendar,1893-1899
3Union College Yearbook, 1902, 03-04, 04-05.
4David Rees, Everett Dick, Union College, Fifty Years of Service (1941), 133-135; Helen Little, "Oliver Seth Beltz," Adventist Heritage, Spring 1991.
5Educational Messenger, Vol. 5, April 29, 13.
6Biographical information on Engel is based on Central Union Reaper obituary, 24 May 1996; other information provided by Chloe Foutz in March, 2002; and a conversation with Marvin Robertson, 21 September 1993.
7Union, College of the Golden Cords, 96-98
8Helen Little, "Oliver Seth Beltz," Adventist Heritage, Spring 1991.
9Golden Cords Yearbook, 1917, p. 73-76.
11Union College, College of the Golden Cords, 203, 204. The other five songs are Union, Old Union; Old College on the Hill (1912); Dear Old Union, Loyalty to Thee (sung to a University of Michigan football song); Dear Old Union; and We Pledge Our Lives in Service.
12Union College, College of the Golden Cords, 240, 241.
13Golden Cords Yearbook, 1936; Union College, College of the Golden Cords, 262.
14The Clock Tower, 7 February 1947; Union College, College of the Golden Cords, 263. The program in that first year required 17faculty and student teachers. It was the largest music program since the school's founding. A year later it was even larger as reported in an article in the 20 January 1948 Northern Union Outlook, pages 3, 4: "with the assistance of ten full-time faculty members, as well as several student assistants, more than 500 private lessons a week are being given." Also later in the article, "Already the new music building, planned to take care of the expansion of future years is crowded to capacity. Practice rooms are busy both days and evenings, and a full-time librarian has been employed to help coordinate activities."
15Union College, College of the Golden Cords, 187.
17Golden Cords Yearbook, 1931.
18Golden Cords Yearbooks, 1945, 1946; Interviews with Adrian and Evelyn Lauritzen, April 2004.
19Union College, College of the Golden Cords, 187; Conversations with Annalee Schander, September 2004.
20Information associated with the event, provided to me by the college and music department in 1997.
21Union College, College of the Golden Cords, 204; Personal Knowledge.
22Warren Becker, "Organs and Their Masters in the SDA Church," IAMA Notes, Winter/Spring 2003.
23Golden Cords Yearbook, 1928, p. 79.
24Golden Cords Yearbooks, 1929-31, 1936-40.
25Interview with Donna Leno, 2003.
26Union, College of the Golden Cords, 323; Dan Shultz, "Significant 20th Century SDA Music Buildings," IAMA Notes, Winter/Spring 2002, 5.
27Information on the late 1960's and the 1970's is based on personal knowledge. I taught there from 1968 to 1979.
28Based on Interviews with Annalee Schander and Ryan Wells in September 2004 and Personal Knowledge.
29Interview with Ryan Wells, 29 September 2004; Personal Knowledge.
30Tiffany Straka, "Largest Band in Union College History," The Concert Wind, November 1998; Personal Knowledge.
31Conversations with Daniel Lynn, August 2004, Personal Knowledge.
A special thank-you to Annalee Schander for her exceptional assistance in research and her personal insights, and to Daniel Lynn, Robert Murray, and Ryan Wells for their information and insights.
Copyrighted by IAMA and Dan Shultz