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Iconic Washington Adventist University Music Director Dies

Story by William Jackson
Published 8/30/2011

Virginia-Gene Rittenhouse, DMA, professor and director of the New England Youth Ensemble (NEYE) at Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park, Md., passed away early this morning in Massachusetts.

“The Washington Adventist University family is deeply saddened at the passing of a true pioneer in Seventh-day Adventist education. She was a driving, innovative force with the orchestra and the programs she began,” says Weymouth Spence, EdD, university president.

Born in Canada, Rittenhouse spent her early years in South Africa. She began her music training at the age of six and debuted her own music compositions at age 10. At age 13, she won a music scholarship for study at the University of South Africa, where she auditioned on both piano and violin.

In the fall of 1945, one year after graduating summa cum laude with a music degree from the University of Washington, Rittenhouse began her teaching career at Walla Walla College, now a university. She taught for one year before going to Atlantic Union College in Massachusetts, where she taught violin and piano until the early 1950s.

She founded the New England Youth Ensemble in 1969 with a group of five students and made their first international trip in 1973 to the World Youth Congress in Edinburg, Scotland.

In 1994, the NEYE became the resident orchestra of Washington Adventist University and has since continued to enjoy widespread critical acclaim. Under her direction, the NEYE has performed both nationally and internationally for numerous world leaders.

Always valuing education on all levels, Rittenhouse developed the NEYE Carnegie Scholars Program, a unique mentorship program that brings scholar members of the NEYE to the stage of Carnegie Hall. This experience also enabled the members to perform under the direction of numerous well-known conductors, including John Rutter, with whom the NEYE has held a long-standing friendship.

WAU is in communication with the family and as details about the arrangements become available, they will be posted at www.wau.edu. Inquiries may be sent to William Jackson, vice president for Marketing and Recruiting at Washington Adventist University, at wjackson @wau.edu.