Connecting Columbia Union Seventh-day Adventists

The New England Youth Ensemble (NEYE) started with a group of young musicians that gave its first performance at the local Kiwanis club in Worcester, Mass.

Former New England Youth Ensemble Members Make an Impact

Story by Alita Byrd

Alumni of the New England Youth Ensemble form an impressive roster, ranging from music directors in Adventist schools and churches far and wide to holding key positions in professional, world-renowned orchestras. Igor Yuzefovich (pictured right), who played with the ensemble in the 1990s, is now concertmaster of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London. Lyndon Johnston Taylor, who played and toured with the NEYE in the 1970s, is principal second violin for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. They are just two of the former members now playing professionally around the world.

“I’ll always remember the feeling of walking out onto the stage at Carnegie Hall for the first few times and feeling like I've just stepped out into a field of gold,” says Yuzefovich. “Just knowing who had been on that stage and hearing the sound of that hall makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up."

The ensemble has also had a major impact on music and music education in the Adventist church. Directors of both the Southern Adventist University and Pacific Union College orchestras have played in the New England Youth Ensemble. Music faculty in Southwestern Adventist University, Andrews University, and of course WAU have also played with the ensemble. Music teachers in Seventh-day Adventist elementary schools and academies across the U.S. and Canada are ensemble alumni.

“Playing with the New England Youth Ensemble meant. . . I got to see the world as a traveler, rather than as a tourist,” says Rachelle Berthelsen Davis (pictured left), who played with the orchestra for more than a decade — including time as concertmaster — beginning in 1990. Davis is now chair of the music department at Pacific Union College.

“That was transformative for me,” says Davis. “It is possible that I would not have become a professional musician if I hadn't had the opportunity to solo so much with the NEYE and had the encouragement to continue my studies as a performance major.”

Pianist Mark Di Pinto is an associate professor in WAU’s music department, home of the New England Youth Ensemble, and is married to Ekaterina—another ensemble alumnus. He began playing with the ensemble in 1995, soon after it moved from Atlantic Union College, and soloed with the group across Europe, the Middle East, Australia and South Africa.

“Playing in the NEYE completely altered the course of school and career for me.  I was pre-med and headed to medical school for sure . . . until playing in the NEYE made me realize how much I loved music, couldn't live without it, and—like medicine—how much of a positive contribution it could be to the world,” Di Pinto says.

Naomi Burns Delafield (pictured in the hat) directs the Rosedale Valley String Orchestra, a group that she started 18 years ago in central Alberta, Canada. She is also concertmaster of the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra. “Virginia-Gene Rittenhouse inspired me to love music and to possibly change the world through it, so I try to pass the same spark of excitement on to my students,” Delafield says. “We have a motto in our orchestra: ‘Changing the world one note at a time.’ Over the past 17 years we have raised $200,000 for less fortunate children all over the world thanks to a partnership with A Better World Canada.”

April Losey is director of the Los Angeles Suzuki Institute and maintains a large studio of viola and violin students in Redlands, California, as well as playing professionally in several orchestras. She says that her four years playing with the New England Youth Ensemble while at what was then Columbia Union College impacted every aspect of her life. She is also one of the many orchestra members who married another orchestra member. Travis (who is now vice chair of the department of neurology at Loma Linda University Health) and April Losey are celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary this year.

Jeremy van Dieman runs the largest violin studio in Calgary, Canada, and is assistant concertmaster of the Kootenay Symphony. He was concertmaster and soloist with the New England Youth Ensemble for 11 years, beginning in 1973, when he was a high school freshman. He says he traveled to 25 countries with the ensemble, and was on the orchestra’s first tour to Poland in 1975, under the auspices of the Friendship Ambassadors program, in connection with the State Department—a concert tour to promote goodwill between countries. Van Dieman played Wieniawski’s Romance with the orchestra in a special performance in Poland for U.S. President Gerald Ford and the president of Poland.


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