Evensong for Drs. Melvin West and Loren Dickinson

It was Sabbath afternoon, March 12 and the Sunnyside Church was filled to near capacity with Walla Walla University alumni, former students, and faculty, Sunnyside members and friends of Drs. West and Dickinson. The expectation was that once more every person who had ever heard these two men during an Evensong in the University Church at WWU would be able to relive that special experience once again. No one left disappointed and everyone left feeling something special had just taken place. It was a time to worship, to remember, to reflect, to be quiet, and to appreciate words and music that were shared in harmony with one another and with the closing of another Sabbath day.

This is how it all began. The WWU church organ arrived and was installed in the winter of 1963. It was an extraordinary item of curiosity for people who had never experienced the wonders of an instrument of that size. Dr. Melvin West, organist and Music Department Chairman, decided right away that he wanted to provide people with exposure to the instrument. He and his neighbor, Dr. Loren Dickinson, a faculty member in speech and communication, collaborated on putting together a program for Sabbath evenings — Evensong.

Dr. West chose a variety of music and the theme song they used was Solemn Melody by Walford Davies. The organ music was separated by selections read by Dr. Dickinson from poetry and prose that were some of his favorite gems of literature. His selections were based on the nature and character of each piece Dr. West would be playing. Every program began with the same theme song and at a particular point during that music Dr. Dickinson would begin by saying "This is Evensong." If you attended Walla Walla College any time during 1963 through 1977, you were once again able to hear on March 12, Dr. West playing the familiar theme song and Dr. Dickinson's voice saying those familiar opening words.

At nearly every Evensong there was a vocal or instrumental solo. The Evensong programs were on Sabbath evening and, as a rule, they started 30 minutes before the sunset and concluded 30 minutes after the sunset. The programs continued in the same format until Dr. West left Walla Walla and moved to Kettering, Ohio, in 1977. The two professors have continued to do occasional Evensong programs at Walla Walla and other locations in the Pacific Northwest, as opportunities have presented themselves.

On Sabbath, March 12, Dr. West performed a variety of music including works by J. S. Bach and an improvisation on "Come, Come, Ye Saints" which he did in the first Evensong in 1963. Dr. Dickinson read selections he chose in line with Dr. West's organ music. One very special piece played by the pianist, Lynn Rognsvoog, a Portland resident, along with Ann van Bever on the English horn and Janet Bebb, playing the flute was a movement from Concerto in G Minor by Maurice Ravel. The congregation also participated in the service by singing "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling."

Evensong has been, and continues to be an important part of spiritual life at Walla Walla University. It is the kind of experience that allows an individual opportunity to worship God in one's own mind and have that experience enhanced by the spoken word and music. It is at the end of Sabbath, which is an unhurried, reflective time of day. It is a time for peace and quiet. Students attending WWU frequently comment that Evensong is an event that they don't want to miss.

Featured in: May 2011