Wichitan Lynne Davis has the magic touch.
So much so, she was just awarded one of France’s highest artistic awards, Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (The Order of Arts and Letters).
Davis, a professor of organ at Wichita State University, lived in Paris for more than 30 years. The virtuoso organist has performed worldwide. In 2006, she accepted a faculty position at WSU. At a recent reception in her honor for winning the Order of Arts and Letters, Mayor Carl Brewer awarded Davis the seal of the city.
Although faculty and alumni at WSU have been nominated for or have received Pulitzers, Tony and Guggenheim awards, this is the first time a member of the college has received this honor from the French Ministry of Culture and Communication.
“This honor will enhance our list in a very distinguished way,” said Rodney Miller, dean of the College of Fine Arts. “The college is unfortunately a well-kept secret.”
Since arriving in Wichita, Davis started the Wiedemann organ recital series at WSU. Eight times a year, she performs free of charge for the people of Wichita.
“She’s inspired a love for the music and the art,” said Whitney Reader, a cardiologist and former organ student of Davis’. “She’s been very good for the community.”
Audiences for Davis’ recitals have increased, as has interest in the organ for which Wiedemann Hall was built. This Danish-built organ was crafted by Marcussen & Son, a company that has designed classical-style pipe organs since 1806.
Davis grew up in Michigan, where she started out playing the piano. Eventually, she found her home with the organ. Her first organ lessons were in the chapel where her parents were married. After attending the University of Michigan, Davis traveled to France to study under Marie-Claire Alain. She was awarded the Certificat d’Aptitude de Professeur d’Orgue by the Republic of France and eventually made France her home after marrying Pierre Firmin-Didot.
Her career took a positive spin after winning first prize at the prestigious St. Albans International Organ Competition in England. Davis has performed and won awards for her live and recorded music. She also served on the faculty of the French National Regional Conservatory in Caen and the Conservatory of Music in Clamart.
Her love for the organ is infectious, and her students range from pre-teens to seniors.
“I have a great passion for both the organ and teaching,” Davis said. “The organ is the orchestra, and the organist is the conductor.”
And when Davis sits on her bench and runs her fingers over the keys, the room transforms into a concert hall where pipes billow and bleat beautiful sounds as Maestro Davis wills them to.
“She’s a real treasure,” said James Higdon, director of the Division of Organ and Church music at the University of Kansas, one of the premier organ departments in the country. “She’s been an important figure in our profession for a long time. We’re so thrilled that she took the position in Wichita.”
Davis holds the Ann and Dennis Ross Endowed Faculty of Distinction in Organ position at the college.
Dennis Ross, a physician, said he realized the number of people who play the organ was dwindling, so he and Ann decided to endow the position. Although the two had nothing to do with Davis’ hiring, they were thrilled to get someone with so much experience at WSU.
“She’s just been a delight,” Ross said. “She makes it fun to listen to the organ.”
Although Davis still feels attached to France, where her daughter and granddaughter live, she said she is thrilled to bring her knowledge to students in the U.S.
“I enjoy taking a little bit of France and bringing it back to my homeland,” she said. “It’s a marvelous feeling to be able to share with people. It’s the ultimate gratification to know you’ve made a difference.”
The next concert is 5:30 p.m. March 13 in Wiedemann Hall, 1845 Fairmount. Admission is free.