Randel “Randy” Wagner, a former Eastern Washington University music professor and acclaimed baritone, died in Liberty Lake on Dec. 22 from complications related to frontotemporal dementia. He was 67 years old.
“Randy was a warm person, an exceptional singer and incredibly dedicated to his students,” said Jonathan Middleton, chair of EWU’s Department of Music. “He brought to our department the highest level of artistry along with a down-to-earth style, and this approach to his work was a huge benefit to our students and programs. We are all sad he is no longer with us. His talents and charm will be missed.”
Wagner, after earning a doctorate in vocal performance and pedagogy from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1993, began his teaching career as a member of the voice faculty at Towson University in Baltimore, Maryland. He joined the EWU faculty in 1998, eventually rising to the rank of professor and serving as the director of the university’s vocal studies and choirs program. He retired from EWU in 2017.
As a performer, according to an obituary in the Spokesman-Review, Wagner sang with opera companies in San Francisco, Seattle and Tacoma. He also performed with the Spokane Symphony, the Spokane Opera and in a variety of local music festivals and theater productions.
Wagner, who grew up working on his family’s farm on the Palouse, gained a measure of early fame in high school after being named “best young artist” at the Greater Spokane Music Festival.
“He could sing above the din of a tractor running at full throttle and yet so tenderly that there wasn’t a dry eye in the house,” Wagner’s brother, Wes Wagner, recalled in the Spokesman.
A poignant tribute by Spokane Public Radio’s Verne Windham on Jan. 3 included a sampling of Wagner’s recorded work, both as a vocalist and choral conductor. The 12-minute audio clip can be downloaded at: www.spokanepublicradio.org/post/tribute-randel-wagner.
A funeral mass was celebrated for Wagner on Jan. 4th at Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral in Spokane. We will update this post with campus memorial information when available.