"An artist needs a high goal in order to accomplish anything."
At the age of 13, Oklahoma native Vida Chenoweth turned from the piano to marimba when her finger became infected. Nine years later, she appeared at the New York City Town Hall and world concerts followed. She was the first marimbist to play at Carnegie Hall; her expertise inspired 17 major works to be written or dedicated to her; and she authored five books on marimba. In the midst of her meteoric career, another accident to her hand caused her to change courses and while recuperating in Oklahoma, she attended the Summer Institute of Linguistics sponsored by the Wycliffe Bible Translators. Following the miraculous restoration of her hand, she turned to the vital work of translating the Bible into the unknown language of a Stone Age New Guinea tribe, the Usarufas. As a result of her thirteen years with the tribe developing a written language for translation and developing hymns in the villagers’ own style, rhythms and idioms, a new pioneering work in ethnomusicology was evolving. In 1977, she became a professor in that field at Wheaton College in Illinois, where her experiments opened new vistas for the use of music with primitive cultures across the globe. In 2001, Dr. Chenoweth was recognized as one of 2000 “Outstanding Musicians of the 20th Century.”
Robert Kurka, concert master of the San Diego Symphony, wrote “Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra” especially for Dr. Chenoweth to perform. The demands of the piece were so strenuous that she found it necessary to take fencing lessons to strengthen her legs to meet the piece’s requirements for balance and movement. Ultimately, the wide leaps and agile artistic movements became a hallmark of her performance.
Chenoweth was born in Enid, Oklahoma.