Concert celebrates OBU pipe organ’s 25 years

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published October 10, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated October 9, 2013 at 10:49 a.m.
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Hannah Keller

Ouida Keck, Ouachita Baptist University’s coordinator of keyboard studies, shows off the university’s custom-made organ in McBeth Recital Hall. Organist James David Christie will perform a free concert at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday celebrating the 25th anniversary of the first concert that featured the organ.

ARKADELPHIA — A pipe organ is not a musical instrument that one just picks out and has delivered. Each one is an individual creation, matching the time, place and the people who play it. Often the instrument is the center of a church, a theater or a university concert hall that is built to accommodate and accentuate the organ.

Such an instrument resides in McBeth Recital Hall at Ouachita Baptist University. The organ at OBU’s Division of Music, in the School of Fine Arts, was first played in concert in September 1988.

A celebration of the instrument’s 25th birthday is set for Tuesday night.

“The organ is by the Reuter Organ Co. in Lawrence, Kan., and took over a year to build and install,” said Ouida Keck, director of the keyboard studies program at OBU. “It has 1,989 pipes, ranging from 16 feet to the size of a pencil. It has 26 stops, 34 ranks, three manuals and a full range of pedals.”

The numbers mean that the organ is set to play almost any kind of music, thanks to Russell Hodges, who recently retired after 35 years at Ouachita Baptist. The celebration concert is being held to honor Hodges, who played a key role in the selection and installation of the organ 25 years ago.

“Russell designed it to be a concert instrument, not a church organ,” Keck said. “The concert will show off what the organ can do.”

Hodges was the organ teacher, and he taught piano, church music, music theory and general-education courses. He also served as the music librarian for the school, Keck said. Hodges was a member of the American Guild of Organists.

The concert will be performed by James David Christie, the organist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 35 years and a professor of organ at the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music in Ohio.

“We are so fortunate to be able to have an artist of his caliber on our campus,” Keck said. “While he had played concerts all over the world, this is his first time in Arkansas.”

Christie is scheduled to perform a variety of styles from throughout music history. There will be selections by baroque composers Johann Sebastian Bach and Antonio Vivaldi, and more contemporary pieces, including one of Christie’s compositions.

Before the concert, the internationally known organist will host a workshop on Monday for OBU keyboard students, although the session will be open to the public. At the workshop, Christie will demonstrate how the organ works and discuss the pieces he will play in the concert Tuesday evening.

Christie has performed throughout the world in solo concerts and with symphonies. He was the first American to win the International Organ Competition in Belgium in 1979. He is also the founding music director of Ensemble Abendmusik (evening music), a period instrument orchestra and chorus.

The concert is sponsored by Ouachita Baptist in conjunction with the Central Arkansas Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.

“The lecture will help the listener to appreciate his recital even more,” Keck said. “The concert not only celebrates the 25 years we have had the organ, and honors Russell Hodges, but promotes the organ and shows off our facilities.”

While the music division at OBU has more than 150 students, it does not have any organ majors at this time, she said.

“Organ students are rare all over the country right now, but we hope the concert will attract some high school students who are interested in learning the organ at a higher level.”

Gary Gerber, chairman of the music division and director of choral activities, said the organ has been used in large choral works.

“I have used [the organ] for the Faure Requiem, Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, the John Rutter Requiem and Mass for the Children, and Felix Mendelssohn’s Elijah,” Gerber said. “Other faculty members have used it for the Brahms Requiem and Durufle Requiem and other pieces.”

Keck said the Reuter organ is used every year for a Lessons and Carols service at Christmastime, held for the entire campus community.

Ouachita Baptist got a grand organ for its music students as the result of an offhand remark made by a teacher during a class.

“Bill Trantham, a pianist and head of the music division at the time, mentioned that he wanted an organ for the university,” Keck said. “One of the students who heard him was Lisa Speer, whose mother was on the board of the Roy & Christine Sturgis Educational Charitable Trust. Speer came home and mentioned what her professor had said, and her mother said she thought it would be a project the foundation could support.”

Keck said other supporters of the university and the arts in the region also pledged funds for the organ, and it was ordered in 1987.

For more information about the concert or the workshop, contact the division of music at (870) 245-5274.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or

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