Services will be held Saturday, Dec. 1, for G. Alan Wagner, 79, a classical baritone and voice professor at West Chester University, who died Friday, Nov. 2, of pancreatic cancer at his home.
Mr. Wagner had a storybook childhood. He was born to Katherine and Pete Wagner on a dairy farm in Longmont, Colo. By the time he was 5, he was helping his father and two brothers milk the Holsteins and do other chores.
He was educated in a one-room schoolhouse and walked three miles to and from school each weekday, his family said. At Longmont High School, he was quarterback and captain of the football team and had almost accepted a football scholarship to a university when he injured his right knee. From then on, he pursued a singing career.
Mr. Wagner earned a bachelor's degree in music from Northwestern University in 1961, and spent three years in the Army Chorus based at Fort Myer, adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Hoping for the spotlight as a performer in musical comedies on Broadway, Mr. Wagner moved to Brooklyn. But he had married Caroline Butler by that time, and when the couple's first child was born, Mr. Wagner decided that the glitz of Broadway wasn't right for him.
The family moved to Pittsburgh, where Mr. Wagner earned a master's degree in fine arts from Carnegie Mellon University. Mr. Wagner joined the faculty at West Chester University School of Music in 1967 after a fortuitous trip to visit his wife's relatives in West Chester. Her brother suggested that he interview at the university, and he was hired immediately.
In his early years at the university, he 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. That achievement led to his first solo recital at the Academy of Music.
While teaching at West Chester University for 37 years, Mr. Wagner also performed in recitals and concerts nationwide. He made his debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra at Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in the world premiere of Songs of Remembrance for baritone and orchestra by the composer Norman Dello Joio.
He was chosen by the conductor 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 American opera companies based in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Wilmington.
He received glowing reviews for his appearances as Marcello in La Bohème and Escamillo in Carmen with the Opera Company of Philadelphia. He performed leading roles in 30 OperaDelaware productions at the Grand Opera House in Wilmington.
Despite his accomplishments, Mr. Wagner remained humble. He was devoted to his family and his students. "He would have told you that, along with singing, teaching was one of the aspects of his life that gave him the most joy," his family said. "He would get nervous before a performance only if it was one of his students taking the stage."
He and his wife laughed — at everything from life's foibles to their own – and believed that levity was 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," the family said.
In addition to his wife of 56 years, he is survived by a daughter, Catherine Wagner Bain; two adopted children, John Parks and Ninia Parks Elsey; two brothers; nine grandsons; a granddaughter; and six great-grandchildren.
The memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Dec. 1 at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 10 W. Pleasant Grove Rd., West Chester. Mr. Wagner donated his body to science.
Donations in his memory may be made to the Young Musicians Fund at Church of the Loving Shepherd, 1066 S. New St., West Chester, Pa. 19382.