Professor of Music
Debra Detwiler is professor of music at Goshen College, where she is involved in the choral, voice and opera theater programs, teaching related courses, and previously serving as department co-chair. Dr. Detwiler was assistant professor of music at Bluffton (Ohio) College for 10 years, and has taught in public schools in Indiana and Colorado.
Since coming to Goshen in 1999, Detwiler has directed the Goshen College Chorale and Chamber Choir, Parables Worship Ensemble, and in 2004 created the Women’s World Music Choir. The choir was an invited performer at the 2013 Indiana Music Educators Association conference in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and has also performed at the 2008 Central Division conference of the American Choral Directors Association in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
In addition to touring many parts of the United States and Canada, Dr. Detwiler’s choirs are in demand regionally, having performed with the Toledo Symphony, Ft. Wayne Philharmonic Orchestra, and South Bend Symphony. A Toledo Blade review of a performance of Belshazzar’s Feast with the Toledo Symphony described her choirs as “wonderfully prepared…. Diction was immaculate, pitch focused.” Dr. Detwiler and her choirs have worked and performed with such noted conductors as Vance George, Alice Parker, Donald Neuen, and Gregg Smith.
As a conductor, Detwiler appears regularly as a choral clinician with high school choirs in local, regional, and national settings. She was an invited conductor at the 2012 Fulton County (Ohio) High School choral festival and the 2009 regional Mennonite Schools Council choral festival in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. She has led workshops in choral and hymn singing at Mennonite churches, schools, conferences and conventions over the past three decades.
Dr. Detwiler’s contacts in churches and schools provide opportunities for her to practice the art of bringing people together through shared song. A focus of her energies is exploring how the use of singing can become a catalyst for connection between people of differing cultures, faiths and circumstances, especially highlighting the role of women as creators, sustainers, and disrupters of art and culture.
Dr. Detwiler’s voice students regularly compete and place at state and regional NATS vocal competitions. Choral and vocal graduates from her studio have gone on to study and have professional careers in Chicago, Boston, New York City, London, and Berlin. She has contributed stage, vocal, and orchestral direction to fully staged productions of operas and musicals at Goshen College, including Bizet’s Carmen, Sondheim’s Into the Woods, Strauss’s Die Fledermaus, Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, and Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers, among others.
As an accomplished hymn leader, Dr. Detwiler’s focus is in international music. A recent Maple Scholars research project with alumni Solomon Fenton-Miller and Lisa Horst Schrock, and ethnomusicologist Dr. Mary Oyer is now housed in the archives of the Indiana University Folklore Institute.
Goshen College Women’s World Music Choir
The Goshen College Women’s World Music Choir was formed in the spring of 2004. Its goals are to discover and perform music of many cultures, both national and international, particularly indigenous cultures. The choir also serves to highlight the role of women in these cultures, celebrating the unique spirit and energy that women bring to the world as creators, sustainers, and disrupters of life and culture. A triannual tour allows the group to share its unique style and sound of performance with a variety of schools and churches.
The choir has performed music from many places, including India, Mexico, the Philippines, Ireland, South Africa, the United States, Swaziland, Guatemala, Pakistan, the Republic of Georgia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Czech Republic. During performances, the women sing barefoot and wear fabrics from around the world to affirm their connection to the earth and their solidarity with women from all cultures.
“When you sing, you have no evil thoughts and when you are dancing, you feel less hungry.” ~Esma Redzepova, Roma (gypsy) performer and singer
Parables Worship Ensemble
Parables is a group of eight students that presents approximately 20-25 programs per academic year at churches, schools, nursing and community centers. Each year, Dr. Detwiler assists the students in developing a 45-minute program of music, original drama, and personal faith stories that center around a chosen theme. Recent themes have been “The Journey is Our Home” and “The BIG Commandment: Loving God, Ourselves, and Others.” The size of the group provides opportunity for more intimate worship encounters as the students relate to people of all ages.
Recent Choral Performances
- Feb. 24-March 2, 2017 – Women’s World Music Choir tour to Kitchener/Waterloo and Leamington, Ontario. Entitled “Reflections of Light,” the tour highlighted music of indigenous cultures and included a combined concert with The Good-Hearted Women Singers, a First Nations drum circle in St. Jacobs, Ontario.
- Goshen College Combined Choirs with Ft. Wayne, Indiana Symphony and Chorus, March 2015, Verdi Requiem.
- Women’s World Music Choir 2014 tour to eastern Pennsylvania featured music from 14th century Spain, a Maori song from New Zealand, a South African song in Zulu, and the premiere of a student-arranged song from Yemen, among other selections.
- Women’s World Music Choir at Indiana Music Educators Association Conference, Ft. Wayne, Indiana, Jan. 18, 2013. Opening conference session and afternoon concert included music from Palestine, Colombia, Bulgarian, Canada, and the American south.
- Women’s World Music Choir at Cincinnati Mennonite Arts Weekend, Feb. 3, 4, 5, 2012.
Dr. Detwiler and her choir were the featured presenters and performers at several sessions, focusing on international hymn singing and various methods of female vocal production.
- A Toledo Symphony collaboration with Goshen College, Feb. 19, 2012, Sauder Concert Hall, Goshen College Music Center.
Goshen College Choirs, select high school singers, and members of the Shout for Joy children’s choir joined with the Toledo Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Maestro Vance George, emeritus conductor of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus in a performance of the Fauré Requiem, Bach Cantata kk. 79, and selections from Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass.
- Women’s World Music Choir at Manchester College’s Peace Week, April 10, 2012.
Recent Academic Presentations
- Along with John Perkins, associate professor of music at Butler University, presented a workshop at the Indiana Music Educators Association conference in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Titled “Approaching and engaging Music from Many Cultures: Humility, Humanity, and Connection,” the Jan. 14, 2017 workshop discussed and presented ways of creating authentic performances of music from all cultures, relying on the function of the music in its culture of origin to provide guidance for such performances.
- On Nov. 5, 2016, in conjunction with the Center for Intercultural and International Education and the Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies program at Goshen College, planned and implemented a symposium in conjunction with the Goshen College choirs and orchestra performance of Larry Nickel’s Requiem for Peace. Title “Re-membering: Stories and Songs of Conflict and Renewal,” the symposium involved community members and GC alumni presenters from Chicago, Elkhart and Goshen who shared stories about past and current participation in peace-building initiatives.
- In February, 2106, led a reading session on global multicultural repertoire along with Raymond Wise, Professor of Practice at Indiana University, at the American Choral Directors Association Central Division Conference in Chicago, Illinois.
- Led reading sessions on multicultural music at the annual Indiana Choral Directors Association conferences in Indianapolis in June, 2016 and June, 2015.
Using Hymnal: A Worship Book and Sing the Story as primary texts, an experiential class that teaches students to lead groups of singers in a connective and creative manner.
Topics: Women and Music
Exploration of the impact of women upon musical aesthetics, composition, and performance from earliest history to today.
Topics: Worship Music of Many Cultures
Worship styles are explored using printed music and multimedia recordings. A focus is how the music is embedded within the culture that supports it.
Development of students’ abilities in solfege-based sight singing, ear training, and dictation.