Oyer to reflect on music-filled life in March 16 Afternoon Sabbatical

GOSHEN, Ind. – It’s hard to put into words a career that spans 58 years, three continents and a wide range of musical styles. So, Mary Oyer, professor emerita of music at Goshen College, will also share music during her Goshen College Afternoon Sabbatical program, “Music in My Life: A Retrospect” on March 16 at 1 p.m. in the Music Center’s Sauder Concert Hall.

Oyer has been a cornerstone in the world of Mennonite music and was named one of the 20 most influential Mennonites of the 20th century by The Mennonite. Her work with two hymnals (1969 and 1992) used by North American Mennonites has helped introduce them to music from other cultures and traditions. As part of the hymnal project, she studied the original texts and music, as well as the history of many songs in the hymnal.

“The interesting thing about researching texts of hymns is that they reveal, through the changes made by a given group, much about their view of life,” said Oyer. She pointed out how one hymn was modified to replace the word “laughter” with “virtue” at a time in Mennonite history when laughter was considered unsuitable for Christians.

Yet Oyer’s career has not been limited to studying her own Mennonite culture. Beginning with the sponsorship of a Fulbright grant in 1969, Oyer spent every other summer in Africa and five school years living in Kenya. She found the best way to learn more about African musical styles was to take lessons from an African on an African instrument. By becoming a student again, she was able to experience thinking and learning music in the African context firsthand. Her experience added to her classical training a more eclectic, multicultural approach to music.

With her deep knowledge of traditional Mennonite hymns as well as a broad knowledge of music from other cultures, Oyer is a much sought after song leader for congregational singing. She has led singing at many Mennonite gatherings over the years. Last August, she participated in the Mennonite World Conference in Zimbabwe and co-led a 26-day Goshen College tour focusing on African music, culture and art.

In 1987, after 42 years on the faculty, Oyer retired from Goshen College and then taught at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary from 1989 to 1998. Today she spends a part of each year since 1999 teaching at a Presbyterian theological college and seminary in Tainan, Taiwan.

The Afternoon Sabbatical program is in its 25th season of offering a rich diversity of programs for the community. A committee composed of community representatives and college personnel look to the wealth of knowledge and talent that Goshen College affords and selects programs that will appeal to a wide variety of interests. Programs have an integral connection to the college — either through subject matter or through presenter’s affiliation with the college. Programs are generally on the second Tuesday at 1 p.m. either in the Sauder Concert Hall or the Umble Center on the campus and are free and open to the public.

For more information on the Afternoon Sabbatical series call the Goshen College Welcome Center at (574) 535-7566 or email joannp@goshen.edu.

Upcoming Afternoon Sabbatical lectures include:

April 13 — International Lunch — Cuba, with Kathy Meyer Reimer, professor of education, and Paul Meyer Reimer, associate professor of physics, 12 p.m., Church Fellowship Hall. Cost: $15.

May 1 — Day trip to Sauder Village, Cost: $65.

–Tim Nafziger

Goshen College, established in 1894, is a four-year residential Christian liberal arts college rooted in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. The college’s Christ-centered core values — passionate learning, global citizenship, compassionate peacemaking and servant-leadership — prepare students as leaders for the church and world. Recognized for its unique Study-Service Term program, Goshen has earned citations of excellence in Barron’s Best Buys in Education, Kaplan’s “Most Interesting Colleges” guide and U.S.News & World Report‘s “America’s Best Colleges” edition, which named Goshen a “least debt college.” Visit www.goshen.edu.

Editors: For more information, contact Jodi H. Beyeler at (574) 535-7572 or jodihb@goshen.edu.