Janet Hostetter was recently named Eastern Mennonite High School’s Alumnus of the Year. She is a 1983 graduate of EMHS and a 1987 graduate of Eastern Mennonite University. Hostetter is currently the artistic director for the Shenandoah Valley Children’s Choir, a program of Eastern Mennonite University. The following article is reprinted with permission from EMHS.
A “nudge from God” and a commitment to accompany congregational singing made her go to church on a Sunday in 2014 when Janet Heatwole ‘83 Hostetter says she was exhausted and might have chosen to do what she never did … sleep in.
But being there that morning may have changed the trajectory of her career. A sermon about Abraham and his obedience to move to a place he had never been at a later stage in life, spoke to Hostetter and led her to say “yes.” The “yes” was to a somewhat daunting invitation to become the artistic director of the Shenandoah Valley Children’s Choir (SVCC).
Hostetter – Eastern Mennonite High School Alumnus of the Year for 2018 – credits EMHS with launching her on a path that includes more than 25 years of directing choirs and ensembles, and teaching music from the Pre-K to the university level, as well as serving eight years in music ministry at Harrisonburg Mennonite Church, and now as director of more than 200 children in three auditioned performing choirs and three non-auditioned early elementary classes.
“My music experiences at EMHS were top notch,” says Hostetter. She came as an eighth grader and was quickly motivated by her admiration of older students and respected music instructors. In little time she was singing daily in choir, had picked up piano lessons again, and was part of a quartet with women who remain among her closest friends today. Advanced music class, Touring Choir, Chamber Choir, giving leadership to the quartet and accompanying choir rehearsals are among influential experiences.
Hostetter was selected by the EMHS alumni board for the award in recognition of the hundreds of lives she has touched through music education. “Music is key to who we are as a school, and we know it’s a tool for healing and transformation,” says Diana Suter Berkshire, staff liaison to the alumni board. “We are proud of how musical seeds sown here in her early years has shaped Janet and so many more through her passion.”
A standing ovation for the SVCC at the 2018 American Choral Directors Association Southern Division Conference in the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts was a career highlight, says Hostetter. “Having hundreds of music educators and choral directors affirm my students and our work together was so gratifying. I couldn’t have been more proud of my students, their musicianship, professionalism and poise.”
Her music mentor
Hostetter credits Jay Hartzler, long-time choral director and music teacher at EMHS for encouraging her to pursue music after high school; she even student taught under Hartzler’s capable tutelage in the fall of 1987 and has enjoyed his mentorship ever since.
After majoring in music at Eastern Mennonite University, Hostetter earned a master of music degree in choral conducting from James Madison University. In the spring of 2008, she served as SVCC guest director and was chosen to take over the helm in 2014 from among dozens of national and international applicants.
Currently, in addition to the SVCC role, Hostetter is writing her thesis for the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in choral conducting at James Madison University. The research topic – an overview of pedagogical practices utilized by selected international children’s choirs – has taken her to Peru (with the SVCC), Australia, the Philippines, Canada and the Czech Republic.
At Wilbur S. Pence Middle School in Dayton, Va., the choral program grew from 10 participants to more than 120 over seven years, and her choirs received “superior” ratings at District Choral Assessments.
From 2009-13, Hostetter served as Repertoire and Standards Chair for Children’s Choirs for the Virginia chapter of the American Choral Directors Association, during which time she worked with many nationally recognized children’s choir directors. Since 2008 she has had the privilege to teach several collegiate music education classes and has also supervised practicum students and student teachers from three local universities. Currently she is in demand as an honor choir director.
Music is a powerful healer
“I’m honored to accept this award in appreciation for the strong music tradition at EMS,” reflects Hostetter. “During my years at EMHS, I experienced how music can positively impact the lives of individuals and communities. I believe that people can receive emotional and spiritual healing through music made in praise of God.”
A number of Bible stories point to this profound mystery, notes Hostetter. She sites: Paul and Silas singing when their chains and the chains of other prisoners fell off (Acts 16:25-26); King Saul was relieved when David played his harp for him (I Samuel 16:23); and King Jehoshaphat won a battle he never fought by positioning men to sing praises to the Lord at the head of his army. (2 Chronicles 2:22-23).
“These stories, along with my own experiences and convictions, have instilled within me, a passion to be the best conductor and music teacher that I can be,” she says.
Married to Eric Hostetter in 1986, the couple have three children — Brook ‘09, Benson ‘11 and Jaden ‘16 — all talented musicians in their own right who also sang under Jay Hartzler at EMS. “That kind of mentorship and training is an extraordinary thing,” emphasizes Hostetter. “I’m grateful to have had it for myself and my children, and honored to pass on the gift in my own career.”