October 28, 2017 - 11:06 AMT
How Armenian immigrant composed Miami University's Alma Mater

The University of Miami has unveiled the story of how Christine Asdurian, an Armenian immigrant, composed the music for the universuty's Alma Mater after William “Bill” S. Lampe wrote the words for it.

Asdurian (a.k.a. Christine Oviatt Asdurian Thompson), was a talented pianist whose journey from Armenia began at age 3 with her father, a clergyman, after the Turks killed her mother in 1896, according to an interview published in The Miami News on April 4, 1926.

Christine Asdurian (a.k.a. Christine Oviatt Asdurian Thompson), class of 1927, was a talented pianist whose journey from Armenia began at age 3 with her father, a clergyman, after the Turks reportedly killed her mother in 1896, according to an interview published in The Miami News on April 4, 1926.

She remembered her departure vividly, having been carried by her father on a camel in a basket lined with red satin. “They went to Paris, and then America. It was not long before her father died,” the newspaper said.

At age 7, Christine was adopted by two sisters, Sarah A. Thompson and Esther H. Thompson, of Litchfield, Connecticut (1900 U.S. Census), and her name was changed to Christine Oviatt Thompson. Education was a priority, and the sisters “gave her the best educational advantages,” according to The Miami News interview.

She sometimes used the last name Asdurian, her mother’s maiden name, for professional piano work. Such was the case when she enrolled for advanced musical studies at the University of Miami in 1926. She studied piano with Earl Chester Smith, was mentored by UM’s first music dean, Bertha Foster, and performed challenging piano works by composers Liszt and Godowsky “delightfully,” according to The Palm Beach Post (1927). The University of Miami’s first president, Bowman F. Ashe, often recruited her to perform for civic functions and donor appreciation events.

Alma Mater

Words by William S. Lampe

Music by Christine Asdurian

Southern suns and sky blue water,

Smile upon you, Alma Mater;

Mistress of this fruitful land,

With all knowledge at your hand,

Always just, to honor true

All our love we pledge to you.

Alma Mater, Stand forever,

on Biscayne’s wondrous shore.

While pursuing a master’s degree in piano performance, Asdurian also worked as a statistician with the Miami Chamber of Commerce. Employing concise facts and charts, she analyzed and distilled complex data for publication in pamphlets that promoted to business owners the benefits of moving to the region. “I just fell into it,” she told The Miami News about her statistical prowess, stating simply, and “Music theory and harmony require mathematical abilities.”

She had earned Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Music degrees in 1916 from Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina and was voted “most talented” by the senior class. She had transferred there from Oberlin. As her Converse yearbook write-up stated, “Christine is remarkable for many things… as a mimic, actress, singer; for making five dresses during the holidays...and we consider her a genius at the piano. Versatility is her middle name.”

In 1917 she also earned a Master of Arts in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University, and married a mechanical engineer, William Robert Suda. They had a son in 1920, but separated soon after (Philadelphia Inquirer, December 1924).

She supported herself from 1924 to 1926 as a staff pianist for Gimbels, a department store chain, performing throughout the New York tri-state area for a recurring radio show that broadcast throughout the region. Radio was a booming new technology, and department stores were in heavy competition to sell receivers. She was one of the first musicians in the United States to perform live over the airwaves. When she arrived in Miami in the spring of 1926, she was quickly put in charge of the radio programs at WGBU that broadcast from the Hotel McAllister (The Miami News, March 23, 1926).

After attending the University of Miami, Christine Asdurian returned to the New York area in 1929 and resumed her live radio performances until 1931. She also worked as an efficiency troubleshooter for the retail chain Macy & Co., and was one of seven chosen from a pool of 350 applicants to work for the New York Telephone Company to analyze and improve switchboard design and call routing during its rapid rise.

She stopped playing the piano after a serious back injury, according to a letter she wrote to Converse College in 1957, when she was about to retire. Her career had moved on to “designing and executing ballet costumes” she reported, harking back to her undergraduate years. She moved to Los Angeles, California, along the way and worked for a time with dancer-choreographers David Lichine and Tania Riabouchinska. “I’ve lived a full life…I’ve had a lot of fun,” she wrote.

Christine Oviatt Asdurian Thompson died in Los Angeles on April 29, 1963 at the age of 70.