Wheaton magazine

Volume 22 // Issue 2
Wheaton magazine // Spring 2019
In Memory

In Memory: Dr. Vida Chenoweth

Dr. Vida Chenoweth was the first marimbist invited to play in Carnegie Hall. She also issued the first recording of works for the marimba. In the midst of this rising career, an accident to her hand and then its miraculous healing inspired her to change paths: she took up Bible translation with Wycliffe Bible Translators.

Chenoweth taught at Wheaton for almost 20 years, having studied marimba at Northwestern University with the legendary Clair Omar Muss-er, and having earned a Ph.D. from the University of Auckland, where she studied music, anthropology, and linguistics. 

The work of translation and the techniques she learned from linguistics informed and combined with a new approach of detailed analysis of unwritten music systems. This groundbreaking approach encouraged the creation of indigenous Chris-tian hymns among preliterate peoples. The translation, analysis, and hymn creation process allows indigenous peoples to experience Christian music from their own cultures rather than from another. 

Recognizing Chenoweth’s unique approach of combining Christian faith with the music of indigenous people, former Conservatory of Music Dean Harold Best brought Chenoweth to campus. As Wheaton’s professor of ethnomusicology, Chenoweth took groups of students overseas each year for field work in places including Senegal, Cameroon, the Solomon Islands, Peru, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea, where she had translated the New Testament for the Usarufa people years earlier.

After retiring in 1993, Chenoweth cataloged 900+ field recordings, along with their meticulous documentation, which are now housed in The Library of Congress.  This pioneer in ethnomusicology died December 14, 2018 at the age of 90.