- About Us
George Alan Wagner, known to his many friends as Alan, classical baritone and voice teacher at West Chester University, died at home in West Chester, PA, on Friday, November 2, at 4:30 PM, after a long illness. His wife of 56 years, Caroline Butler Wagner, was at his side at the time of his death.
Alan was born on March 11, 1939, on a dairy farm not far from Boulder, Colorado, to the late Katherine and Pete Wagner. He was helping with the farm work and milking the Holsteins - along with his older brother, Jim, and his younger brother, Jack - by the time he was 5, and he attended a one-room schoolhouse, to and from which he walked 3 miles every morning and afternoon. He was the quarterback and captain of the football team at Longmont High School, and almost accepted a football scholarship to a university until Fate, or perhaps Providence, damaged his right knee and steered him onto the path of a singing career.
Alan earned his Bachelor of Music degree from Northwestern University in 1961, and spent three years in the Army Chorus, based at Fort Myers, Virginia. After his discharge, Alan and his wife moved to Brooklyn so that he could take a shot at musical comedy on Broadway. But by the time their first child was born, Alan had decided that the glitz of musical comedy wasn't the right fit for him, so the family moved to Pittsburgh where Alan earned his Master's Degree in Music from Carnegie-Mellon University. A fortuitous trip to visit Caroline's relatives in West Chester led to Alan's being hired by the WCU School of Music in 1967.
In his early years at WCU, Alan continued his studies at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, won a regional Metropolitan Opera audition, and took first prize in the nationally acclaimed Emma Feldman Vocal Competition in Philadelphia, which in turn led to his first solo recital at Philadelphia's Academy of Music. Throughout his 37 years of teaching at West Chester University Alan performed in recitals and concerts in various parts of the United States. He made his debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra at Saratoga Springs, New York, in the world premiere of "Songs of Remembrance" for baritone and orchestra by Norman Delio Joio. He was chosen by the late Maestro Eugene Ormandy to perform with the Philadelphia Orchestra in Haydn's "Creation" at the Academy of Music and at New York City's Carnegie Hall. He performed leading roles with major American opera companies, including those of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and received glowing reviews for his appearances as Marcello in "La Boheme" and Escamillo in "Carmen" with the Opera Company of Philadelphia. Closer to home, Alan performed leading roles in more than 30 different OperaDelaware productions.
Amidst all his accomplishments and accolades, Alan remained humble. He would have told you that, along with singing, teaching was one of the aspects of his life that gave him the most joy. He would get nervous before a performance only if it was one of his students taking the stage. His love for his family - including his daughter Catherine Wagner Bain, his two adopted children, John Parks and Ninia Parks Elsey, his 9 grandsons and 1 granddaughter, and his 6 great-grandchildren - was constant and limitless. And so was his caring for his students. During his illness, which began in October of 2016, he often said that what he missed most was teaching - the significant, lasting bonds that formed between himself and his students, and seeing them become the vocalists they dreamed of being. And he missed the laughter that had always been a cornerstone of his life. He and his wife agreed that laughing together - at everything from life's foibles to one's own - was the essential key to a long, happy marriage.
There must be truth to the idea that people die as they lived, for at the end of his life, right up to his last breath, Alan was calm, peaceful and generous with his love.
For 31 years Alan and Caroline have been members of Church of the Loving Shepherd. However, the memorial service in his honor will be held at the Westminster Presbyterian Church (10 West Pleasant Grove Road, West Chester, PA, 19382) at 1:00 PM on Saturday, December 1st. According to Alan's wishes, his body has been donated to science. If you want to offer a gift in Alan's name, rather than flowers his family would prefer and appreciate donations to the Young Musicians Fund at Church of the Loving Shepherd, 1066 S. New Street, West Chester, PA 19382.
Arrangements by DellaVecchia, Reilly, Smith & Boyd Funeral Home, Inc. 610-696-1181 www.DellaFH.com