2022 GMTA Teacher of the Year
Debra Ramsey Dickensheets is a native of the South Carolina lowcountry. Growing up in Beaufort, she was exposed to many styles of music at an early age. Earliest memories are of having a piano in the house and picking out little tunes on it as a preschool child. Parents made sure she had the requested piano lessons and choir training as soon as the teachers would accept her, which meant at that time around the second grade. The Ramsey family was very involved with the Baptist Church of Beaufort. The beautiful historic sanctuary that survived the Civil War had traditional classical music at Sunday morning services and gospel and contemporary music at the evening service. She had private piano lessons, and later in junior high school organ lessons as well, with the same teacher from the beginning through high school. The Minister of Music at the church gave her private voice lessons her senior year and she sang Dvorak song, God is my Shepherd, at her high school graduation from Beaufort Academy. Her senior recital was on the Steinway concert D piano at the school as well. Church music, along with diverse styles brought in by the military, Gullah, Jewish, and classical music presented locally by the South Carolina Arts Commission were all early influences.
A professional career as a musician began for Debra at the age of 15 when she was hired by the US Marine Corps to be the organist and choir director for 3rd Recruit Training Battalion at the Protestant Chapel on Parris Island, SC. Groups of 1000 soldiers came in waves, 6 weeks at a time, for boot camp. On special occasions she would play the organ with the Marine Corps Brass Band.
Deb graduated with an associate degree in music with honors from North Greenville College. There she was chapel organist and sang in the scholarship ensemble and well as the touring choir. Debra’s piano teaching career began as an undergraduate student at Converse College, where she earned a BM in organ performance. As a student she took piano pedagogy classes and taught in the precollege division of the music department. She has been teaching keyboards ever since. Organ pedagogy classes at Florida State University followed where she earned a master’s degree in organ performance. After graduation she worked briefly at Fox House of Music in Charleston, South Carolina as a piano and organ teacher before accepting a position as Director of Music and Organist at First Presbyterian Church of Hilton Head Island. There she built a private piano and organ teaching studio while training many choristers and handbell ringers of all ages in a full time position at the church.
After marriage to her physician husband David Dickensheets, MD, and moving to Rhode Island for him to continue his medical training at Brown University, she continued her education at the New England Conservatory simultaneously teaching in her private studio. She studied organ with Yuko Hayashi and improvisation with Bill Porter. At that time she also worked in Providence at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Grace Episcopal Church, Temple Emanuel (conservative Jewish congregation) and at Rhode Island College, directing choirs, solo playing and accompanying on the piano and organ.
In 1988 Debra and her husband moved to Gainesville, Florida where she continued her career as a teacher, accompanist and church musician. During this time she founded and was harpsichordist for the Alachua Consort, a chamber ensemble specializing in the music of the Baroque along with violinist, Annemieke Pronker-Coron and oboist, John Netardus. Deb accompanied the Willis Bodine Chorale with Orchestra on one of their Florida Tours with brass ensemble and as organist with orchestra on other concerts. Deb also served as dean of the Gaineville Chapter of the American Guild of Organists and on the board of directors for the Gainesville Symphony Orchestra.
Relocating to Alpharetta in 1998, Debra started her current studio in Kimball Farms and joined North Fulton Music Teacher’s Association. She has served as interim musician at Roswell Presbyterian Church, Johns Creek UMC, First Church of Christ Scientist of Atlanta, and Saint Brigid Catholic Church. She was a piano accompanist for 7 years for Grammy winning Gwinnett Young Singers while daughter, Caroline was a singer. Caroline also earned the Paderewski Gold medal from Piano Guild while studying piano with her mother.
Debra was North Fulton Music Teachers Association’s president from 2019-2022. Under her leadership, with the assistance of her very active board members and committees, NFMTA was awarded “Chapter of the Year” at the 2021 State Conference at Piedmont University. NFMTA maintained a membership of over 80 teachers during the Covid- 19 pandemic and Deb hosted monthly Zoom meetings when meeting in person was not possible. Thinking outside the box, one meeting was even held outdoors. Fall Festival, Celebrate with Music and Local Audition events continued during her presidency, overcoming the challenges of Covid-19.
Since 2014, Debra has been the director of music/organist at Lutheran Church of the Ascension in Atlanta, There she oversees a fine chamber music program. Her composition “Jubilate” for 9 handbells, written during the pandemic for socially distanced ringers, won an award in a MuseScore competition.
Debra’s private teaching studio currently has approximately 20 students mostly of piano, but also of organ, harpsichord and digital keyboards. She received Top Music Teacher Award in 2020 and 2021 from Steinway Piano Galleries of Atlanta. She is the chairman of Alpharetta/ Steinway Center for Piano Guild for which she is a member of the Hall of Fame and adjudicator. She is also co chairman of the Ocee chapter of the National Federation of Music Clubs. Georgia Music Teachers Association appointed Debra as Wellness Chairman for the state in 2019. Thinking was at that time she would be dealing with issues such as carpel tunnel and repetitive motion syndrome, things changed when Covid-19 entered the picture. Wellness transformed into a bigger role. Fortunately, her husband, David, Medical Epidemiologist for Northside Hospital, was able to contribute to the GMTA newsletters with good medical advice. In 2021 Deb was unexpectedly diagnosed with invasive carcinoma of the breast. She managed to receive treatment in between her studio spring recital and the beginning of the school year in August. She is now a cancer survivor and a strong advocate for early cancer screening.
Most recent concerts post pandemic include music on the historic house pipe organ in the Renaissance Room at Viscaya Museum in Miami. In 2022 Debra played on the L’Organo series at Piccolo Spoleto in Charleston and for the Lowcountry AGO on Hilton Head Island. She makes an effort to include music by women composers and regularly collaborates with other musicians to compose and produce new music.
Website - www.alpharettapianos.com
You Tube Channel - https://youtube.com/channel/UCJ7f7-AclW8VyYMq9WNNTvg
Linkedin profile - linkedin.com/in/debra-dickensheets-88a18628
Arlene Broadhurst Martinides created this image in memory of her mother Joan Broadhurst, a long-time GMTA member.
We are pleased to share biographies and teaching tips of previous GMTA Teachers of the Year:
2021 Sonja Foster
2020 Portia Hawkins
2019 Huu Mai
2018 Ping Yun-Hsu
2017 Susan Andrews
2016 Susan McDuffie
2015 Jan Adams
2014 Susan Naylor
2013 LaNelle Nash
2012 Martha Thomas
2011 David Watkins
2010 Lois Finlay
2009 William and Mary Ann Knight
2008 Aurelia Campbell
2007 George Mann
2006 Naegeli Metcalf
2005 Nancy Elton
2004 Jean Mann
2003 Jeannine Morrison
2002 Betty Nolting