An extraordinary musical talent, a quick wit, an infectious laugh, a lovable spirit and a genuine heart for the work of the Lord all describe one of the greatest church musicians ever produced in Oklahoma.
Max D. Lyall, noted concert pianist, composer and music professor, died Feb. 18 in Oklahoma City. He was 71.
Lyall’s list of accomplishments reads like a who’s who of renowned musicians, both past and present.
A native of Tonkawa, he graduated from Northern Oklahoma College in his hometown, earned a bachelor of music degree from Oklahoma Baptist University, a master of music degree from the University of Oklahoma, a doctor of musical arts degree from Peabody Conservatory of Music at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., and did graduate work at George Peabody College in Nashville, Tenn. He also studied at Columbia University and the Julliard School of Music.
After teaching a year at OBU, Lyall became assistant editor in the church music department of the Baptist Sunday School Board (now LifeWay) in Nashville. He later moved to Nashville’s Belmont College, where he served on the music faculty. In 1974, Lyall joined the faculty at Golden Gate Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., where he was professor of church music for 25 years. In “retirement,” he moved back to Baltimore to serve as part-time minister of music at Woodbrook Church, the home church of Annie Armstrong, where he served two stints while working on his doctorate. Just a few years ago, he moved back to Oklahoma, living in Oklahoma City, to be near his family.
In 1968, he recorded “Max Lyall on the Piano,” an album of 12 gospel numbers. In 1977, Triangle Records in Nashville released Lyall’s “Authentic Original,” an album of hymn-tune improvisations for piano. He wrote and arranged a number of works for Southern Baptist publications, including “Favorite Hymns for the Piano,” “Hymn Tune Preludes for the Piano” and “Music From Way Back When.” Another published hymn tune improvisation included “Max, Rhythm and Song.” And while cleaning out his home after Lyall’s death, his family discovered about 1,500 CDs Lyall had recorded in 2003, titled “It Goes Like it Goes.” Some of these were given to those attending his funeral service, some sent to Woodbrook Church in Baltimore, and some sent to Tiburon Church in California where he was a member while at Golden Gate.
He was pianist for several meetings of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Baptist World Alliance, and was accompanist for the Centurymen, an internationally known Southern Baptist men’s group on trips to Brazil, China, Russia, Czech Republic and Poland.
While in Nashville, he sang and played for sacred gospel and country recordings as well as doing commercials. He was piano and harpsichord soloist with the Nashville Little Symphony, Nashville Symphony String Quartet, Nashville Chamber Orchestra and Nashville Pro Musica. In addition, he was piano and tenor soloist with the oratorio choruses of Golden Gate, Southern Seminary and California Baptist College. He was the accompanist and piano soloist for the Baptist Festival Singers’ concert tours of Europe and for the Baptist Youth World Conference in Argentina in 1984. He was also visiting professor of church music and concert performer at Baptist seminaries in Brazil, Argentina, Hong Kong and Zambia, as well as a teacher at music conferences in Singapore, Taiwan, Paraguay, Korea and Indonesia.
Lyall was honored by OBU with a “Profiles in Excellence” award in 1987, and served on the Hymnal Committee for the 1991 edition of the Baptist Hymnal.
One of his most notable accomplishments in Oklahoma was as pianist at Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center, which he began the year he graduated from high school.
In an interview with the Baptist Messenger in 2001, Lyall said he was intimidated and flattered to play at Falls Creek at such a young age.
“I was overwhelmed by the crowds of young people, as I still am,” he said. “Returning to my Oklahoma roots and Falls Creek continues to be one of my favorite things to do.”
Funeral services for Lyall were Feb. 22 at Oklahoma City, First, where he served as associate minister of music. Burial was in Riverview Cemetery in Tonkawa. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to The Legacy at Oklahoma City, First.