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Duke University names new director of chapel music

May 17, 2019

A church musician and scholar from Ohio will serve as the next director of chapel music at Duke University Chapel, the college announced Friday.

Zebulon Highben is currently an associate professor of music and director of choral activities at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio. He is also director of music at Trinity United Methodist Church in Columbus, Ohio.

A native of Ohio, Highben begins his role at Duke Chapel on July 15. He will also be involved in leadership and teaching at Duke Divinity School.

“Music nurtures the soul of a community, and Zeb is someone who has the musical ability, liturgical creativity, theological sensibility and pastoral heart to be an amazing musical leader at the chapel, at Duke, in Durham and beyond,” the Rev. Luke A. Powery, dean of Duke Chapel, said in a statement. “He brings with him gifts that are musical and scholarly as well as creative and compassionate.”

As the head of the chapel’s music program, Highben will lead a program of sacred music in worship and in concert that includes students, volunteer singers, staff choral singers, instrumentalists and professional colleagues. He will be the primary conductor of the Duke Chapel Choir, which sings regularly in the chapel’s Sunday morning worship services and also presents annual performances of Handel’s “Messiah” and other major choral works.

“I see at Duke Chapel, and the Duke campus more broadly, an exciting combination – a deep appreciation for excellence in worship and sacred music embedded in a robust intellectual environment,” Highben said. “A diverse community such as the ones at Duke and in Durham are fertile grounds for artistic performance and collaboration.”

A choral director for more than two decades, Highben has led choirs on international tours and at choral music conferences. In 2015, he won The American Prize in Choral Conducting in the College/University Chorus Division. In 2016, he was selected as the Central Division Fellow for the American Choral Directors Association’s International Conductors Exchange Program with South Korea.

As a professor of music, Highben has taught introductory and advanced-level courses on topics such as choral methods, conducting and the musical heritage of the Reformation.

He earned an undergraduate degree in music education from Ohio State University, a master’s of sacred music degree from Luther Seminary with St. Olaf College, and a doctorate of musical arts from Michigan State University.

Highben is a deacon in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. His wife Amanda is a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and together they have a daughter.