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Accomplished flutist, UGA doctoral student found dead in her Athens home

Sarah DelBene

By Joe Johnson

A University of Georgia music doctoral student was found dead last week in her home in east Athens.

The body of 25-year-old Deborah DelBene was discovered Thursday afternoon by UGA police when conducting a welfare check at DelBene’s home on Madison Heights at the request of an associate director for UGA’s Hugh Hodgson School of Music, according to an Athens-Clarke County police report.

According to the report, there were no signs of foul play, but officers found indications in the home that DelBene had been ill.

A fellow student reportedly told police that when she last saw DelBene on Wednesday night she “described Ms. DelBene’s condition as pale and sickly,” according to the report, which added that the deceased student “had been telling her peers that she had developed a case of food poisoning.”

Athens-Clarke County Coroner Sonny Wilson said that DelBene’s mother indicated that her daughter recently had seen a doctor for a sinus infection, but that she had no known medical conditions that could have caused her death.

Wilson said he was awaiting the results of autopsy testing that will hopefully provide answers to what killed the young woman.

According to published reports, DelBene was an accomplished flutist who was pursuing a doctorate in musical arts.

When she joined the UGA Community Music School in September 2020, the school posted the following on its Facebook page:

“For our #FacultyFriday we would like to introduce Sarah DelBene. Sarah is currently working on her DMA in flute performance and joined the UGA Community Music School faculty this fall!

“Currently a freelance performer and educator located in the Athens, GA area, Sarah DelBene is a new DMA student at the University of Georgia studying under Professor Angela Jones-Reus. Sarah has collaborated with groups like Sandbox percussion and Cookeville Mastersingers, and has been in televised events such as A Baylor Christmas and Cookeville Mastersinger's Jubilate Deo. She has been a substitute musician for the Waco Symphony Orchestra and was also a recipient of the Captain Anderson Memorial Scholarship for her work in the Bryan Symphony Orchestra. During her undergraduate degree, Sarah was named second prize winner in the Joan Derryberry Memorial Concerto Competition for her performance of Concerto for flute and Orchestra by Jacques Ibert. While completing her master’s degree, she also secured second place in the 2020 Maverick Flute Soloist competition at the University of Texas at Arlington for her performance of Sequenza I by Luciano Berio.

“Looking to expand her musical experiences, Sarah has performed in masterclasses for heralded flute pedagogues including Carol Wincenc, Susan Milan, William Bennett, Göran Marcusson, and Leone Buyse.

“She also spent extensive time studying with Dr. Lea Pearson in her course Play Your Way Out of Pain as a means to develop body awareness and performance freedom through the Body Mapping somatic practice taught by licensed instructors in the Association for Body Mapping Education (ABME). Currently, Sarah is a Body Mapping trainee in ABME and is a passionate advocate for the incorporation of somatic education in music pedagogy.

“Sarah holds a Master of Music in Flute Performance from the Baylor University and received a Bachelor of Music in Performance from Tennessee Technological University. Her primary teachers include Angela Jones-Reus, Charlotte Daniel, Roger Martin, Sue Swilley, and Lea Pearson.”

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