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Pembroke choral director dies; memorials come in song and on wheels

Joel Diffendaffer, the chair of performing arts at Pembroke Hill’s upper school, died Aug. 4, 2018, from an aortic dissection suffered while on a mountain biking trip in Colorado. He was 44.
Joel Diffendaffer, the chair of performing arts at Pembroke Hill’s upper school, died Aug. 4, 2018, from an aortic dissection suffered while on a mountain biking trip in Colorado. He was 44. Courtesy Pembroke Hill School

Pembroke Hill Upper School choral director Joel Diffendaffer died Saturday after being hospitalized with a sudden tearing in his heart, suffered while mountain biking recently in Colorado, the school announced Sunday.

He was 44.

Memorials planned for Diffendaffer, Pembroke’s chair of performing arts and previously the choir director at The Barstow School, will feature some of his favorite activities — singing Sunday night, and a morning bike ride Monday.

The Class of 2018 was planning to lead a singing gathering at Pembroke’s Ward Parkway campus at 9:30 p.m. Sunday, the school said.

Monday at 5:45 a.m., a regular bicycling excursion in Prairie Village will take on the late educator’s name, becoming the the Joel Diffendaffer Memorial Ride, according to a Caring Bridge web page set up for Diffendaffer.

Diffendaffer was bicycling in Colorado July 30 when he suffered an aortic dissection and was hospitalized in Colorado Springs, the school announced.

Diffendaffer had been at Pembroke for 10 years — a tenure that included scoring top marks in the WorldStrides Heritage Music Festival in Chicago that earned Pembroke choirs an invitation in 2017 to perform in New York’s Carnegie Hall.

He was also a performer with the Grammy award-winning vocal ensemble Chanticleer.

“Joel made an incredible mark on this world — his family, his students and the world at large,” read one of many posts on the Caring Bridge site.

“Our hearts are broken,” read another. “Joel you were truly the greatest gift to our children … You spread kindness that was contagious.”

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