Norman Rian’s influence in the musical life of Hawaii was extensive. His legacy continues through his students, many of whom followed his lead and became music educators, or simply maintained a lifelong love of music and strong connections to the other students they sang or played with under his baton. He died quietly at home in Honolulu on October 25, 2010. He was 96.
Norman was born in Felch, Michigan on April 18, 1914. His love of music showed early: in high school he played clarinet and was the drum major of the marching band. One summer he played a concert under John Philip Souza and was given the clarinet solo in “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” He was so excited that he played it an octave higher, but it must have been okay for Souza winked at him. He graduated in 1935 from St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, where he majored in music under the direction of F. Melius Christiansen. In his early career in North Dakota and Montana, he taught music and history. He earned a Master of Arts in Music Education degree in 1939 from the Eastman School of Music. That same summer he married Esther Tufte, the love of his life, whom he met standing in line to pay bills at St. Olaf.
In Tonawanda, NY, Norman was director of music for the school system. In 1943 the family moved to Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH, where he directed the glee club, taught music theory, music appreciation, band, and orchestra. His students were military recruits.
In 1946, he came to the University of Hawaii to establish and teach in the music department. He was department chair for many years, founded the Concert Choir and the Chamber Singers, and reorganized and directed the band. He also founded and directed the UH Music Camp. Under his direction the 75-voice Concert Choir made an acclaimed concert tour to Japan in 1958. Norman received his Doctor of Music Education degree from Columbia University in 1960. His thesis proposed using Native Hawaiian music in Hawaii’s public schools. In 1964 his Chamber Singers, as “The Hawaiianaires,” made a USO tour in Southeast Asia.
His musical activities were not limited to the university setting. He was involved with the Gleemen of Honolulu and the Honolulu Junior Symphony. Back on campus, he directed numerous musicals and operas.
Norman was the choir director and organist at Honolulu Lutheran Church and Calvary Lutheran Church, and choir director at the Community Church of Honolulu.
In 1968, Norman left the Manoa campus to join the faculty of the new Leeward Community College as chairman of the Humanities and Arts Division, where he continued to teach music. He retired as Professor Emeritus in 1979.
His community involvement in-cluded the Honolulu Symphony Society, the Honolulu Academy of Arts, the Hawaii Music Educators Association, the Department of Education, the Hawaii Music Educa-tors Festival, and the Kamehameha Schools Song Contest.
Next to music, Norman loved sailing. He sailed every chance he got and won many trophies which are cherished by his family today.
His family consists of his wife of 71 years, Esther; brother, Gerald; four daughters: Linnea Peterson, Penny (Sylvia) Robicheau, Heidi Rian, and Dikka Rian; eight grandchildren, five great-grandsons, a brother- and sisters-in-law, cousins, and many nieces and nephews. We have given him into God’s continuing, loving care & feel that he is at rest.
A memorial service will be held at the Community Church of Honolulu (2345 Nuuanu Ave.) on Thursday, November 4, at 1:00 p.m. No flowers please; aloha attire.