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Profile In Excellence: Arnold Rawls Pursues Passions

December 7, 2010

The operatic stage is hardly unfamiliar territory for Arnold Rawls. Having performed in more than 20 roles throughout his career, the 1982 OBU graduate has traveled the world sharing his gift, while bringing the traditions of Bison Hill right along with him.

Rawls' initial aspirations of pursuing church music as a career first brought him to OBU. The University's Warren M. Angell College of Fine Arts was famous for producing first-rate church musicians. That reputation reached the Rawls home in West Monroe, La. At a young age, Arnold met OBU graduates Pete and JoAnn Butler, two influential church musicians from the First Baptist Church of Ada. The Butlers told him there was no better place to pursue an education in church music than OBU.

"I trusted the Butlers because I had heard that they were some of the best church musicians in the country," Rawls said.

Their advice paid off.

Rawls said the decision to attend OBU introduced him to some of the most important mentors in his life -- mentors whose teachings he would soon take with him across the world.

Dedicated to rigorous study as a college student, Rawls entertained pre-medicine as a degree option. The interest soon fizzled, however, and he returned to his initial focus on church music. Once he began intentionally studying the vocal arts, his talent and drive to succeed musically opened many doors. In addition to church music ministry, Rawls had another passion to pursue - living the life of a performer.

After graduating, Rawls pursued further education, completing a master's degree in religious education at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a doctorate in musical arts at the University of Oklahoma.

He began his career as minister of music at the First Baptist Church of Ada -- the very place his first mentors, the Butlers, served. He later moved to Spring Creek Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. Following his stint there, he joined the faculty at Moody Bible Institute as artist in residence and professor of music and voice. For 13 years Rawls fulfilled duties as a faculty member, while travelling worldwide to perform professionally. He recently moved to Edmond to pursue a full-time performance career.

He recounts his first professional performance as being the most powerful of his entire career. His opera company at the time had a partnership with a school for the blind and hearing impaired. While performing for such an audience initially seemed odd to Rawls, he later found it fulfilling to share opera with those who rarely have an opportunity to experience it. For Rawls, it was his most difficult performance; yet, it was also his most rewarding.

Following the performance, he was approached by a teacher leading a blind student who wished to meet Tonio -- Rawls' character. Awed with the chance to meet a genuine opera star, the child simply asked to touch Rawls' face. To this day, Rawls points to his interaction with that student as being one which has impacted him most in his performance career.

"That was in 1991 and there has not been another moment as powerful as that in my operatic career," Rawls said. "To touch someone's life with the sound of your voice is a wonderful thing. I had never realized the power of it until that very moment. The child said when I sang he could see the opera in his head because they had studied the story line, were told what the sets were like and had listened to the music. He touched my face that day, and that experience continues to touch my life."

Rawls points to his college days as being most pivotal in terms of personal development and preparation for his future career.

"My time at OBU was one of character building," Rawls said. "It was the first time I was away from home and had to take care of myself and polish my positive qualities and diminish my negative ones. The faculty at OBU were instrumental in helping me form my Christian worldview."

Those most central to Rawls' individual growth during his collegiate studies were his professors. Studying with the OBU music faculty gave him the foundation to pursue a career in the church, in the classroom and on the road. He said he carries their influence with him everywhere he goes.

"Perhaps the most influential of all my OBU professors was Betty Woodward," Rawls said. "She is the best teacher I have ever encountered. She is truly a teacher of teachers. Her strong influence has stuck with me since my OBU days. She is a significant mentor and friend to me this very day."

In his role at Moody Bible Institute, Rawls sought to affect students in the same way he was influenced as an undergraduate at OBU. He worked to create character development opportunities for his students. He prepared and inspired students to teach the art of music to others. He also encouraged students to pursue a variety of passions - as he has done.

Rawls and his wife, Julie, have two children, Graham and Madison. While in Illinois, Julie directed music ministries at their home church. When they can, the family travels with Arnold to his opera performances and vocal recitals. Though still at a young age, both Graham and Madison are opera experts, having spent ample time with their father at his performances.

While he performs around the world, Rawls can still be heard on Bison Hill. He returns to campus every few years to present a recital and talk with current students.

That has become another OBU tradition he maintains.

Click the following link to view a full list of previous Profile in Excellence recipients.