Walla Walla College Honors Melvin West


Melvin West, noted organist and church musician, joined a select group of six Adventist musicians who have had music buildings named after them when Walla Walla College named its fine arts center after him on April 26 [1996]. The ceremony, which occurred at the beginning of alumni weekend, included music, the reading of tributes, and the unveiling of bronze plaques in the main foyer and a new sign on the building. The rest of the weekend featured the music department, presenting the fruits of initiatives taken by West thirty-five years earlier.

West, who served as music department chairman for fifteen of his eighteen years at Walla Walla College, became an agent for change when he arrived on the campus as chair at the age of twenty-nine in 1959. Within his first eight years a fine arts center, the first truly adequate music facility in Adventist colleges and universities, was constructed and five pipe organs were installed. Additionally, accreditation in the National Association of Schools of Music was gained for the department and membership in Kappa Lambda, the national music honor society, was attained, both being firsts in Adventist higher education.

West set an example for his teachers with inspired teaching and performance, and in community outreach. He helped form a local chapter of the American Guild of Organists and eventually served as dean of the Northwest division of AGO.


In 1977, West accepted a position at the Kettering, Ohio, church as the first full-time minister of music in an Adventist church, a position he held for over three years. He then served as professor of music at Union College for six years before returning to the Northwest in 1988. He has since served as minister of music at the Sunnyside Adventist Church in Portland, Oregon, and taught music at the WWC Portland campus.


From his earliest years, West was fascinated by music and intrigued by the organ. When six years old he would pretend that the front bumper of his grandmother's Chrysler was a keyboard, with the grill serving as the pipes.

He completed a bachelor's degree in music at Emmanuel Missionary College (now Andrews University) in 1952. Following graduation, West played organ on the Adventist Television program Faith for Today for a year and then accepted a position at Atlantic Union College.

During his six years there, he completed a master's degree in music at Redlands University and a Doctor of Musical Arts in Organ Performance at Boston University, studying under noted organists Claire Coci, Leslie Spelman, and George Faxon.

Both he and Stanley Walker, previous WWC music department chair and organist, were elected Fellows of the American Guild of Organists in 1957, the first Adventist organists to be so honored.


Beginning in 1982, West was chairman of hymn tunes for the committee charged with revising the Adventist Church Hymnal. His influential leadership, musical judgment, and gifts in arranging and composing, and his work as co-editor with Wayne Hooper, resulted in a hymnal which has been widely praised for its inclusiveness and musical integrity.

Its listings of Composers, Arrangers and Sources of Tunes includes over thirty credits to his name, more than to any other single person or source. Within these listings are five original hymn tunes and several responses. While West's accomplishments are many and distinguished, in the minds of most, he is best known for his gifts in teaching and performing. Through his talents and dedication, West has ennobled, enriched, and inspired the lives of countless students and worshippers.

Dan Shultz/1996