Music at Washington Adventist University

An Historical Overview

Dan Shultz


Washington Adventist University, founded in 1904, was the ninth college to be established in the United States by the Seventh-day Adventist church. Initially named Washington Training College, it was renamed Washington Foreign Mission Seminary in 1907, and, in 1914, Washington Missionary College. The name was changed in 1961 to Columbia Union College and its present name was adopted in 2009. The school's location near world headquarters for the SDA church and at the nation's capital led to preferential treatment by the church in its early years and an enviable ongoing cultural advantage which has benefited the college's music program for over a century.

When students at what is now Washington Adventist University started classes in the fall of 1904, music lessons in voice and organ were offered, taught by Walton John, an organist and singer.1 Within two years, he expanded the offerings to include a course in sacred music that required three years of study on reed organ, two years in sight singing, and a year of theory and music history.2

From the beginning, even with a program meant specifically to train persons for foreign service, the importance of music was stressed, as stated in the 1907 Announcement:

The ability to sing and to play upon some instrument of music is of inestimable value to one seeking to win a place among those who are suspicious and often hostile to the gospel messenger. 3

By the time the school was reorganized ten years later as Washington Missionary College and began offering college level work, music had became a popular area of study.4 That fact, along with the cultural offerings in the Washington area which were easily reached with a five-cent trolley car ride, was listed in promotional articles about the school.5

The interest in music at the college, coupled with increases in the school's enrollment, led to the hiring of two additional teachers in the 1920's. Three highly regarded young teachers who taught during that decade, Harold B. Hannum, James W. Osborne, and Harold A. Miller, would become major figures in SDA music during the 20th century.

In those early years, choirs were the primary music ensembles, with frequent changes in leadership and identities. Victor Johnson, a violinist who taught from 1928 to 1934, formed touring glee clubs in addition to the choir that traveled frequently. Johnson, who had come from Walla Walla College to teach at WMC so that he could work on a music degree at a nearby school, also ran the department and conducted an orchestra at the college and bands at both the Review and Herald and the college.6

His successor, Willard (Bill) Shadel, was also an instrumentalist. A 1933 graduate of Emmanuel Missionary College, now Andrews University, he had worked at the EMC radio station as a student and conducted some of its music groups. CUC's choral and instrumental groups flourished under his leadership, with the oratorio chorus cresting at 200 members.

When Shadel, a charismatic and popular director, suddenly resigned in January 1937 to pursue his interests in radio, the students were upset. According to the school paper, the situation was alleviated by the "condescension of Professor Shadel" to continue conducting the choral groups until the end of the year.7

Within a decade of leaving, Shadel became nationally famous as a CBS World War II correspondent in Europe and eventually as a respected anchorman on ABC and CBS radio and TV.8 He was also one of the moderators of the first nationally televised presidential debates held in 1960.

George W. Greer, noted for his work with choirs at Pacific Union College, became choir director as the 1937 school year started. Unlike his immediate predecessors, he was a trained choral director and, on arrival, immediately created a fifty-member a cappella choir.

Additionally, he challenged the oratorio chorus by scheduling it for a performance of the Messiah, a first for that group and the school.9 Within three years, the oratorio choir became known in Washington for its annual presentations of both the Messiah and the Elijah.10

In the next six years, Greer's a cappella choir would become noted regionally for its performances, often singing in leading area churches. It also gained acclaim through its performances on NBC radio and, in the summer of 1941, its singing at Radio City Hall and the World's Fair in New York City. Greer left in 1943, to work as arranger and director of music at the Voice of Prophecy. Four years later he accepted a position at Australasian Missionary College, later Avondale College, in Australia, where he is now remembered for his legendary success with its choir.11

Minnie Iverson Wood, who had been assisting Greer, succeeded him and directed the choirs for seven of the next thirteen years. During that time the choir performed in the presence of Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon and sang annually in the memorial service at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, Virginia. These and other choral appointments were due in part to a reputation earned through the choir's program, Songs of Majesty, heard weekly on commercial radio in the D.C. area.

Both Victor Johnson and Shadel, in addition to conducting the choirs, had created excitement with their bands and orchestras while at the college. When Shadel resigned in 1937, George Wargo was hired on a part-time basis to direct the orchestra, something he would do for sixteen of the next eighteen years. A musician with impeccable credentials, Wargo had been a prodigy on the violin, playing as a soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra at age sixteen and becoming principal viola with the National Symphony at age nineteen.12

While continuing at the NS and working as a teacher at Peabody Conservatory of Music from 1932 to 1942, he became an Adventist. In 1942, he left PCM, where he had just completed a master's degree, to be chair of the CUC music department.

In addition to leading the music program and instrumental ensembles at the college, Wargo also continued giving recitals and playing in off-campus chamber music groups. His viola playing was praised for its rich sound and for reviving interest in the instrument.13 During this time he also completed a doctor's degree in theory and composition at the Philadelphia Conservatory, becoming the first music teacher at CUC to have a terminal degree in music.14 He left CUC to accept a position at the University of Virginia in 1955.

It was during Wargo's time as chair that CUC invited Oliver S. Beltz, noted church musician and professor at Northwestern University, to conduct the choir, teach voice, and establish a degree with a major in church music, a program not offered at any other Adventist college. Additionally, Beltz hoped to gain membership for the department in the National Association of Schools of Music. However, because of a lack of support, arising from disagreements between Beltz and Wargo, and a low enrollment in the church music program, the degree and the idea of membership in NASM ended when Beltz left in 1952, after five years at the college. 15

A small building known as the "Sunshine Cottage," a four-room house situated where Halcyon Hall, the women's dormitory, is now located, housed the music program in its early years. Because of its limited space, students practiced and attended classes in noisy and crowded conditions. Ensembles rehearsed in the auditorium of Columbia Hall, the main college building located on the other side of campus, a structure built in 1919.

During the 1927-28 school year the basement of Central Hall, one of three original buildings constructed in 1904, was renovated to include a rehearsal/classroom area and studios and practice rooms.16 Two decades later, a Music Studio Annex became the building for music, with the choir rehearsing in nearby Sligo Church, which had been completed in 1944.

The annex, renamed Music Hall, along with a nearby building, a former residence now known as the Music Annex, continues as the home for the music department. Choir rehearsals and department recitals are held in the Atrium of Sligo Church.

The importance of keyboard instruction was recognized from the beginning. As noted earlier, reed organ study was required in the first music certificate program. The first three teachers were organists or pianists and the earliest music instrument acquisition on record is that of two pianos (listed along with the purchase of an automobile!) in 1916.17

The accomplished playing of teachers Harold Hannum and James W. Osborne (also a singer) as piano soloists and as duo performers in the last half of the 1920s elicited highest praise from school publications.18 In the 1930s, Ethel Knight Casey, Lois Hall, and Gilmore McDonald also taught in the keyboard area. They were followed in the next four decades by Audry Wargo, Yvonne Caro Howard, Robert Quade, Frank Araujo, Lynn Wheeler, Florence Clarambeau, Harold Doering, and others. Doering, an organist who started teaching in the early 1940s while still a student, completed a music degree in 1951. He would teach theory and organ until 1961.

Doering also led out in the installation of two pipe organs at the college. The first was a rebuilt organ, placed in Sligo Church in 1951. He was particularly proud of his role in acquiring a highly regarded 25-rank Aoelian Skinner for Columbia Hall that was dedicated in 1960 with performances by Virgil Fox and by himself. Tragically, a fire set by an arsonist in 1970 destroyed the building, the organ, and a nine-foot Steinway grand piano.

Beginning with Don Vaughn, who taught organ from 1963 to 1967, a number of improvements were made to the organ in Sligo Church. A new console was installed in 1966 and over the next decade, a major renovation and expansion of the organ was done by Casavant, a highly regarded organ builder.

The first mention of an instrumental ensemble at the college had been in the fall of 1917, when the campus paper reported that students liked to open their windows to hear the school orchestra rehearse.19 Beginning with Victor Johnson's and Willard Shadel's leadership of the orchestra in the 1920s and 1930s, the college string ensembles have been a source of pride to the school. Wargo's long association with the National Symphony and his reputation as a performer created an aura that enhanced the image of the Sinfonietta, a college string group he led during his record tenure as director of campus string ensembles.

Starting with Johnson and Shadel and continuing with Raymond Casey, Wargo, Jane Summerour Ralls, Edward Lindquist, Edith Eckenroth Gates, Robert Walters, and others, that tradition in college support for the string program and its ensembles has continued until the present. Since 1994, the New England Youth Ensemble, under the leadership of Virginia-Gene Rittenhouse, has been the resident orchestra.

Although the first faculty-led band had started in 1928 with the arrival of Johnson, the first person whose identity was primarily that of band director was Minor Day Plum. A versatile musician who claimed proficiency on 37 instruments, Plum had earned degrees at the University of Nebraska and the University of Southern California. During his six years at the school in the 1950s he purchased uniforms for the band, organized a recorder ensemble, and enlarged the degree program to include majors in all band instruments.20

His immediate successor, Norman Krogstad, increased the size of the band and expanded its repertoire during his five years of leadership. He challenged the group with the serious musical works for band by significant composers which were beginning to be published at that time.21 He also chaired the department during his last four years.

His interest in creating a more sophisticated image for the band was shared by his successors, Frederick Lorenz and Adell Haughey Claypool. Claypool, the first woman band director in accredited Adventist colleges, directed band at CUC for what was at that time a record thirteen years, from 1965 to 1978.

The performance level of the band under her leadership was widely praised. A trombonist, while at CUC she organized and hosted a highly successful trombone workshop with Lewis Van Haney, noted teacher at Indiana University. It attracted trombonists from the service bands and many East Coast universities and colleges. Claypool also led a trombone choir of sixteen members that performed frequently.22

In the two decades following her departure the band would be led by a succession of part-time directors including Dieter Zimmerman and Robert Tennyson, the latter serving for twelve years. In 1998, Bruce Wilson, who had been conducting prize-winning bands while at Shenandoah Valley Academy in Virginia, was appointed full-time director of the ensemble. He revitalized the group and established an ensemble that enjoyed a reputation for musical excellence. When he retired at the end of the 2012-2013 school year following a record fifteen years of leadership, he was honored with the WAU Presidentís Award during graduation exercises for the school at Constitution Hall.

Paul Hill, a gifted young choir director, assumed leadership of the choral program in 1962. He created a select group, Pro Musica, from the larger choir and then quickly established, through his insistence on excellence, a choral sound and performance level in all of his groups that delighted audiences and attracted gifted singers.

Five years later, while still teaching at CUC, he founded the Paul Hill Chorale, an acclaimed independent semi-professional group that debuted at the National Cathedral. Over the next 29 years it became an important part of Washington's musical life, performing almost 200 times in the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.23

Hill left CUC in 1970 to devote more time to the chorale and two other choral groups he had established. He then returned in 1992 and conducted the group for two more years. By the time of his death in 1999, he was regarded as the person who had made Washington one of the nation's premier centers for choral music.24

Neil Tilkens and Betty Christensen, pianists, joined the faculty in 1958. A year later, when Charles Pierce, also a pianist, was added to the faculty, they collaborated in a performance of Bach's rarely heard Concerto for Three Pianos in D Minor.24 Tilkins taught at CUC for nine years and Pierce for ten, with the latter serving as chair for six years. Tilkens, who accepted a position at George Washington University, continued as an adjunct faculty member at CUC for many years.

For Christensen, however, this appointment to the faculty would prove to be the beginning of the longest tenure of any music teacher at CUC in its first century. A superb theory teacher, her 27 years at the school would span four decades. By the time she retired in 1985, her presence and influence had been a stabilizing force in the music program during troubling transitions for both the school and the department.

Beginning in the 1970s, CUC's enrollment started to drop as students began to go to other SDA schools in less congested and seemingly more secure areas. The proximity to Washington, touted at the school's beginning as an advantage when the college was still in the country, had became a liability.

The area surrounding the college had become densely populated and, though the school was still actually in a suburb, it was now regarded by many as being in the city. That perception, linked with destructive race riots in Washington at that time and a fire that destroyed Columbia Hall in 1970, unfairly hurt the image of the college. As the enrollment decline continued through the 1970's and into the 1980's, talk of a merger with Atlantic Union College and an actual proposal to relocate to another area created even more uncertainty.

When Van Knauss, who had become organist in 1967, just as the decline began, became music chair in 1974, he set about to strengthen the department. He began to prepare the department for possible membership in the National Association of Schools of Music, a distinction held by just half of the music schools in the U.S.

Although he succeeded in gaining five-year provisional certification with NASM in 1979, five years later when the application for full membership had to be filed, the final step was not taken. Fluctuations in the number of music majors, related to overall enrollment problems at the school; reductions in full-time music faculty; and a lack of interest on the part of college administration at that time led to the ending of the process.

Disappointed as he was, Knauss, encouraged by a subsequent president, William Loveless, guided the department as it increased its musical interaction with schools, colleges, and members of the community and the area's military service bands. All of the regular faculty worked on a part-time basis during this time, including Knauss, who was also in charge of music at Sligo Church. Additionally, a number of adjunct faculty were added to assist in specific performance areas, thereby decreasing the need for resident instructors in critical areas of instruction.

CUC's strong tradition in vocal and choral music continued through the 1970's and 1980's and into the opening years of the 1990s, under the leadership of Lyle Jewel, Leland Tetz, Robert Young, and Jon Gilbertson. Tetz, who had been added in 1974 to oversee the choral program had taught for three years and then left. He returned in 1983 and four years later became chair of the department, a position he would hold for the next three years, until 1990. During that time he increased the number of music majors, adjunct faculty, and scholarship resources. By the beginning of the 1990's, however, the school's music program was in trouble as the college struggled on several fronts.

Paul Hill's return as choir director in 1992, though, created excitement both in the department and on campus. Although by now a living legend both at CUC and in the Washington area and heavily committed to his professional groups, he relished the chance to work once again at the school where some of the most satisfying years in his career had happened.

And the magic was still there as students responded as enthusiastically to him as they had years earlier. Tragically, a debilitating illness would end his leadership of the group in 1994. Knauss, who had chaired the department for almost twenty years, a record tenure for music department leadership at CUC, also left in 1994.

In 1993, Virginia-Gene Rittenhouse, director of the New England Youth Ensemble, which had been associated with Atlantic Union College, came to the area to form an orchestra that performed with a choral group in a program directed by Frank Araujo. Interest in having an orchestra again at CUC, sparked by that group, led to an invitation from CUC President Charles Scriven for Rittenhouse to relocate to that area with the NEYE and be associated with the college.

In the fall of 1994, Rittenhouse and the ensemble officially affiliated with CUC and James Bingham, director of choral groups at AUC, was also hired to direct the choral program at the college. In addition to its usual activities, the choirs now also became more active, performing and touring with the NEYE.

With the two directors came a small group of music students from AUC and others who had performed with the NEYE. These musicians, coupled with students already at CUC, provided a lift in overall morale and the image of the department as its ensembles began to travel widely and perform in distinguished venues.

Now approaching his twentieth year at CUC, known since 2009 as Washington Adventist University, as choir director and chair of department, Bingham's leadership of Pro Musica and the Columbia Collegiate Chorale has gained them international acclaim as they have toured extensively and performed at high profile events in Carnegie Hall, the National Gallery of Art, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. In addition to numerous tours and performances, the choir has also released a number of CD's under the Ethereal Records label.26

His leadership has stabilized the music program and led to significant accomplishments for the department.  Through his efforts, the first and principal building in the construction of a multi-million dollar new music facility, a need for over sixty years, was completed and occupied in 2012.

Presently, the location for the university is again considered a safe, even preferred area for living, due to a dramatic real estate turnaround that occurred in the 1990s. That, and the easy access to the culture of the nation's capital, facilitated by newer and quicker means of transportation, has made WAU an ideal setting for music, as it was in its beginnings.

The many successes of its ensembles and musicians along with continuing financial support of the music program by both the school and other sponsors have stabilized the department. That stability, coupled with plans for a fully completed new music facility in the immediate future and plans to pursue accreditation with the National Association of Schools of Music bode well for the future of music at WAU.



1 Hail! Washington, Theofield G. Weis, 1944,1946, a manuscript history about the college in its first 40 years, faculty listing.

2 Washington Training College Calendar, p.28

3 Announcement of the Foreign Mission Seminary, 1907,08, p.19.

4 The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Vol. 93. No.43, 31 August 1916, p. 20.

5 Ibid, pp 20, 21.

6 Ibid, 14 November 1929, 13 March 1920, 6 November 1930, 5 March 1931, etc.

7 Ibid, 15 January 1937 (This article was written by John T. Hamilton, son of the college president. Hamilton would become a noted Adventist choral conductor.)

8 The Emmanuel Missionary College Student Movement, 18 April, 24 October 1929; 24 April, 16 October 1930; The EMC 1032 Cardinal; Andrews University Focus, Fall, 1993, p. 7.

9 The Sligonian, 22 October 1937.

10 Ibid, 1/10 January 1941, 4 April 1941, 18 December 1942, 16 April 1943.

11 Ibid, 26 July 1940, 16 April 1943, 1941 Golden Memories Yearbook.

12 IAMA Notes, Wtr/Spg 2001, p.10.

13 The Sligonian, 13 December 1946.

14 Ibid, 10 or 17 May 1941.

15 Adventist Heritage, Spring 1991, p. 37; Sligonian, 19 April 1946. Beltz had represented Northwestern University years earlier at the founding of NASM and participated in establishing curriculum guidelines for membership in that association.

16 Ibid, 15 December 1927.

17 The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, 29 June 1916.

18 The Sligonian, 25 November, 1 January 27, 15 February 27, 13 May 1927, 2 November 1928.

19 Ibid, September/October, 1917, p. 6.

20 Golden Memories, WMC Yearbook, 1957, dedication page.

21 Personal Knowledge.

22 Personal knowledge and interview with Claypool in 2001.

23 The Paul Hill Chorale, now known as the Master Chorale of Washington, still performs regularly in the Washington area and at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

24 Obituaries from The Washington Post, 28 September 1999; The New York Times, 29 September 1929.

25 The Sligonian, 2 October 1959.

26 The record of what happened between 1940 and the present is based, in part, on the following interviews and conversations: James T. Bingham, 23,24,30 September 2003; Betty Christensen, 25 September 2003; Adell Haughey Claypool, 16 September 2003; Van Knauss, 22 September 2003; Robert Quade, 1 October 2003; Virginia-Gene Rittenhouse, 24 September 2003; Margaret J. von Hake, 24 September 2003; Bruce Wilson, 24 September 2003; and Minnie Iverson Wood, 24,30 September 2003.

Special thanks to Dan Martin who assisted in research and Lee Wisel, CUC Reference Librarian, for her assistance to him and the writer; and to Margaret von Hake, CUC Library Director and James Bingham, WAU Music Department Chair, both of whom provided helpful assistance and valuable insights.

Copyrighted by IAMA and Dan Shultz