NAPERVILLE, Ill. (Dec. 15, 2010)—Music professor Paul Warren Allen could be moved to tears by the beautiful sounds created by students in his choir at North Central College.
“I remember one Christmas he was conducting the choir singing Handel’s ‘Messiah.’ The truth of the words gripped him and he had crocodile tears running down his cheeks,” recalls his daughter, Paula Billingsley.
Allen, of Orange City, Fla., died Dec. 4, 2010 from complications following surgery. He was 96. He was a direct descendent of American Revolutionary War patriot Ethan Allen, his daughter says.
Allen came to North Central in 1957 after serving on the music faculty at nearby Wheaton College. He assembled a choir that eventually grew to more than 100 students who toured the United States and Canada, performing for as many as 17,000 people a year.
At its peak in the 1960s, North Central’s Concert Choir performed in such prestigious venues as Orchestra Hall, home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Allen left a lasting legacy among former students.
“He always kept by his side a notebook of choir concert programs and letters from former students, some decades old,” Billingsley says.
In addition to directing the choir at North Central, in the 1960s Allen was instrumental in establishing the NCC-Community Chorus, also known as the Oratorio Association, a 200-member ensemble that evolved into today’s Naperville Chorus.
“He left a great legacy,” says Jeordano “Pete” Martinez, a North Central music professor and Naperville Chorus director. “Alumni just rave about him. There was a strong kinship among members of the choir from that era.”
Under Allen’s leadership, North Central’s Concert Choir undertook an annual spring tour that took it from coast to coast and included numerous appearances on radio and television. The choir’s repertoire included works of the Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Contemporary periods as well as Christian hymns and spirituals.
One former student says Allen, known as “Prof” to many, had a profound impact on her life.
“Some people enter our lives and the effect that they have on us never fades, but becomes more meaningful, more powerful and our gratitude deepens,” says Sandra Hammel, a 1972 graduate of North Central. “I treasure the music that ‘Prof’ Paul Warren Allen—with his understanding and interpretive, expressive movements—lifted out of us. He truly had a gift. Those rare ones who elevate our experience contribute to a richness in our lives, especially in the arts. ‘Prof’ Allen was one of those jewels.”
Allen remained at North Central as chair of the music department until 1971, when financial pressures caused the suspension of the college’s music program. He continued working with school and church choirs and as an adjudicator and guest conductor at music festivals and contests.
Today, the restored music program at North Central includes more than 20 instrumental and vocal groups performing in the $30 million Wentz Concert Hall and Fine Arts Center, dedicated in 2008. Faculty include acclaimed classical music educators and internationally known jazz performers, and degrees are offered in vocal and instrumental music, jazz studies, and choral and instrumental music education.
The college’s revived Concert Choir once again tours the country and abroad each spring.
“In many ways we are keeping alive the traditions that Paul Warren Allen was instrumental in starting at the college,” Martinez says.
Allen was born in 1913 in Rochester, N.Y., and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music at the Eastman School of Music at New York’s University of Rochester in New York, where he was director of choral activities for several years. He moved to the Midwest in 1953.
Allen is survived by Billingsley, of Clearwater, Fla., and two other daughters, Bonnie-Jean Hisgen of Conifer, Colo., Gail Townsend of Fern Park, Fla., and their spouses; 12 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife of 67 years, Eleanor Schuyler Allen, and a son, Richard Ethan Allen.
A graveside service will be at 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 18, at Hollywood Cemetery in Orange City, Fla. Online condolences may be left at allensummerhillfuneralhome.com/obituaries/Paul-Allen.