Saturday, September 03, 2011

My Story, My Song

This is my story, this is my song.
Praising my Savior all the day long.
This is my story, this is my song.
Praising my Savior all the day long. 

If anyone ever embodied the meaning of this beloved hymn, literally, it was my friend Virginia-Gene Rittenhouse.  I say "friend" because she truly was my friend, although many years older than I, and many times more gifted and talented and beloved than I could ever hope to be.  We were not equals in sense of the word . . . except in purpose and mission.  Her mission, her passion, was to bring God to the world through music.  Classical music.  It was there, through this medium of music, that we met.  It sounded like heaven.  It was there, through this ministry of music, that she and thousands met.  And it is there, because of her ministry in music, that we will meet again someday.  Founder and director of the New England Youth Ensemble, Virginia-Gene was a force to reckon with.  A legend.  An icon.  A difference-maker.  A mentor and friend.

Virginia-Gene Shankel Rittenhouse
Tuesday morning, a tsunami wave of enormous proportions swept over the musical world, leaving hundreds of musicians, young and old, bereft of their leader and mentor.  As the word got out that Virginia-Gene had passed to her rest, we began to reach out to each other, through Facebook and other means, to comfort and to share.  There are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of stories of how she brought kids together to play music and took them around the world to praise God.  We could tell stories by the hundreds--stories of the crazy experiences...and yes, miracles...that occurred on tour.  Tales of sleepless nights, bus breakdowns, lost passports, border crossings, sunstroke, buckets of granola, apple crisp, 5 concerts in a day, and lives touched.  And then there were her stories!  She was an amazing story-teller!  You've not heard stories until you've heard her tell one...

The Ensemble in 1975. 
I am struggling to find the words to express the difference she made.  I don't think it's possible.  You can read about her here, but unless you spent time with her, unless you saw her at her highest as well as her lowest, you can't begin to understand what it meant to have her in your life, however briefly.  She made her mark the first time you met her.  And if you were lucky enough to tour with her, even once, never mind over and over, your life was never the same.  And you were part of the Ensemble family forever.  That in itself is a gift.  We are coming together again this week, through Facebook, and over the next several weeks at various Life Celebrations.  We will be sharing our memories, sharing our loss and our appreciation for the gift she gave each of us.  This world will not be the same without her, but we have the hope and promise of seeing her again in the world made new.  That blessed assurance was hers.  That, above all, was her story and her song.  And it is ours in no small measure because of her.

1 comment:

Morning's Minion said...

I learned of Mrs. Rittenhouse's death earlier in the week and have watched your blog for a post.
I didn't know her, but during our few years in So Lancaster attended a number of performances of the Youth Ensemble and several notable ones where Virginia-Gene was soloist--a memorable one was the evening she played her Jamaican Suite with the Thayer Conservatory Orchestra [hope I'm recalling correct names, here.]
With all the rarified accounts of tours and youthful talent it was interesting to hear Shirley Charlestream tell of the more prosaic aspects of the groups' outings. Shirley acted as a chauffeur and cook for the group--which of course included her own gifted but incorrigable kids.
Sad to think that much of this musical activity is gone with the campus of AUC closed.