Adventist Musician Virginia-Gene Rittenhouse, 88, Passes
Her ‘New England Youth Ensemble’ toured globe, mixed music with Christian witness
BY MARK A. KELLNER, News Editor
Virginia-Gene Rittenhouse, 88, a noted violinist, conductor and Seventh-day Adventist musical powerhouse, passed to her rest August 30, 2011, at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester.
The 40-year-old New England Youth Ensemble, which Rittenhouse founded, counts hundreds of young Seventh-day Adventists as alumni. The group toured much of the world, played numerous concerts at New York’s renowned Carnegie Hall, and remains a noted representative of the Adventist Church as a whole.
Rittenhouse founded the New England Youth Ensemble in 1969 with a group of five students at Atlantic Union College in South Lancaster, Massachusetts. In 1994 the ensemble 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.
According to Atlantic Union Conference president Donald G. King, and Atlantic Union College president Norman Wendth, Rittenhouse “was a significant part of our community for many years, contributing both personally and musically to AUC, the Church, and the wider community. Her high standards for sacred music had a profound and far-reaching influence on Seventh-day Adventists everywhere, and the Church is better because of it.”
Weymouth Spence, Washington Adventist University president, added, the school “is deeply saddened at the passing of a true pioneer in Seventh-day Adventist education. [Rittenhouse] was a driving, innovative force with the orchestra and the programs she began.”
Born Oct 15, 1922 in Lacombe, Alberta, Canada, Rittenhouse was the daughter of a Seventh-day Adventist school administrator. When she was 3, Rittenhouse and her parents moved to South Africa, where her father would serve as president of Helderberg
College. Until she was 19, the young musician pursued her musical career there. Returning to North America in 1941, she earned master’s and doctoral degrees in music—the latter from the prestigious Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
She became a well-known concert pianist and violinist, married Dr. Harvey Rittenhouse, and spent time in medical and music ministry in Jamaica before joining the faculty of Atlantic Union College.
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, founder of the noted Cambridge Singers, with whom the NEYE has held a long-standing relationship.
Harvey Rittenhouse, her husband of 61 years, survives, along with numerous nieces and nephews. Details on memorial services are pending, although one tribute was underway long before her passing: in 2010, Washington Adventist University broke ground on a new music building, a portion of which will be dedicated to Dr. Rittenhouse and her work; it is due to open in the fall of 2011.
-- with information from Washington Adventist University; Atlantic Union College; and College and University Dialogue magazine.