Before her death last year on April 22, Dr. Deb Detwiler left one last mark on Goshen College.
What was formerly known as Women’s World Music Choir was re-named to Voices of the Earth, a move made in order to include not just women, but also non-binary voices. Detwiler conducted her final concert on April 6, 2019, though no one expected it to be her last. Sixteen days later, she passed away unexpectedly in her home.
Almost a year later, Voices of the Earth is still singing strong. As the anniversary of Detwiler’s death approaches, it is only appropriate that 54 female and non-binary voices honored her legacy and life by touring Puerto Rico for seven days, singing and enjoying the sunshine over midterm break.
“Puerto Rico definitely passes the vibe check” said Haley Kirkton, sophomore, in an Instagram post.
A choir tour to Puerto Rico had been a dream of Detwiler’s, although Goshen College choirs had never left the mainland United States or Canada for a tour before. Last year, the Chamber Choir traveled to Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, and the year before that the men’s choir, recently re-named Vox Profundi, made its way to the west coast. Three years ago, on Detwiler’s last tour with the World Music Choir, the group traveled to Canada.
The tour this year was possible due to a number of circumstances, including a large anonymous donation and two Puerto Rican members of the choir, Lisa Rosado Rivera and Dali Rodriguez. Rosado Rivera’s parents, Liza Rivera and Raul Rosado, were key in making the trip possible, finding host families, organizing performances and transportation and planning fun activities for the choir to do in their spare time.
After a long night spent on a plane, 54 exhausted singers arrived in San Juan at 4:30 am on Saturday February 22. The day was spent lounging on the beach, drinking piña coladas (virgin of course), and flying kites. However, the relaxing didn’t last long; the next day things were kicked up a notch.
The choir sang 10 planned performances and three spontaneous performances in churches and schools in the course of five days. They sang with three other Puerto Rican choirs, led some workshops, and visited a wide variety of cities in Puerto Rico. They bonded with their host families, enjoyed typical Puerto Rican cuisine, and burnt their pale winter skin in the warm Caribbean sun.
Preparing for a tour is no small feat. Although some songs had been in the singers’ repertoire since the beginning of the year, others were newer, and there were 12 in total that needed to be memorized, including a song dedicated to Detwiler, an arrangement of My life flows on, one of her favorite hymns. By the end of the week, the choir was singing confidently, dancing and swaying to the music.
Anna McVay, sophomore, reflected on the tour and singing in memory of Detwiler.
“Throughout this tour, I was reminded of Deb not only through [My life flows on] but through the connectivity felt while singing in such an incredible group of treble voices,” she said.
After a beautiful week of singing and bonding, the choir boarded yet another plane and flew back to Goshen, where they had one last chance to sing their program in Sauder Concert Hall on Sunday, March 1.
More information about Voices of the Earth’s tour in Puerto Rico can be found on the Goshen College blog at https://www.goshen.edu/blogs/category/choir-tour/.