The start of a new academic year always brings about bustling excitement, especially for the music department, as students prepare for a year of classes and ensembles. However, this year feels slightly different than the ones before it due to the loss of a beloved professor, director and mentor.
After having a rapid relapse of cancer, Dr. Deb Detwiler had planned on becoming semi-retired in the 2019-2020 academic year, solely focusing on choir conducting. Unfortunately, Detwiler passed away on April 22, 2019, only days after the annual Earthtones: Songs of Many Cultures concert.
In the subsequent weeks, students, faculty and staff and community members gathered across the Goshen College campus in memoriam. Favorite songs and poems of Detwiler’s were shared, and many people who were impacted by her shared stories and favorite memories, punctuated by tears.
Some informal events included a time of storytelling between current students in the Music Center, an evening of reflection and song in the GC Prayer Labyrinth and planting hostas, Detwiler’s favorite flower, by the Music Center’s northern entrance.
Her memorial service on May 10 included a choir of treble voices belonging to over 100 former students that Detwiler had taught in her 20 years at Goshen College, gathering together to pay tribute to their mentor and teacher through song.
Although she was a person living with a terminal illness, cancer did not slow Detwiler down in her final months. Last academic year, she directed not only the Women’s World Music Choir, but the Chamber Choir as well. She also traveled with the Chamber Choir on their tour of the southwestern United States in February.
While the activities that coincide with a new semester haven’t changed, the loss of Detwiler can still be felt throughout the building; many feel that Detwiler left behind an enormous legacy.
Sharada Weaver, a senior, worked with Detwiler in the student worship ensemble “Parables,” and said that Detwiler’s absence is heavy.
“Coming into this year, it’s been extremely hard knowing that Deb won’t walk into the choir room, smiling, to begin rehearsal,” said Weaver. “However, I am grateful that Marcia Yost is taking her place for this year since she is someone who was close to Deb and understood her dedication, passion and love for VOTE.”
Last year, she helped lead the effort of renaming the Women’s World Music Choir, which is now referred to as Voices of the Earth. This name change reflects Detwiler’s desire to be open to all treble voices, not just those that identify as a cisgender woman. It was very important to her to be inclusive of all members of the choir, and the name change was her way of welcoming any treble voice into the community that her choir has created.
Alongside her legacy, Detwiler also left behind a position of not only a choral director, but professor and voice instructor. Classes such as Conducting and private vocal lessons will be taken up by the other Music Department faculty for this year, especially Marcia Yost, the Music Center’s current director of arts, engagement and outreach, as well as a past Goshen Community Schools music educator. Yost will take over primary responsibility for directing the Voices of the Earth treble voices choir.
During Voices of the Earth’s first rehearsal on Sept. 2, Yost acknowledged Detwiler’s passing and legacy and told the choir that “we will build upon the shoulders of what she has already done.”
She also touched on remembering Detwiler joyously. Yost informed the choir that the Music Department is undergoing an exhaustive international search in order to find the most qualified person to take over Detwiler’s position starting next school year.
To honor Deb’s memory and legacy, the Goshen College Symphony Orchestra, Men’s Choir, Voices of the Earth and Chamber Choir will be performing a joint concert on Saturday, Nov. 9 at 7:30 pm. They will be presenting the Brahms Requiem, a 70 minute-long piece, in dedication to Detwiler.
Other combined GC choir events include the Fall Gala, Oct. 5 at 7:30 p.m., and Festival of Carols, December 6 and 7 at 7:30 and December 8 at 4:00 p.m. All performances are held in the Sauder Concert Hall.
For tickets and more information, visit gcmusiccenter.org or the Music Center box office.