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OBU Shawnee Community Orchestra Concert April 18 to Feature Three Guest Artists

April 13, 2017

The OBU / Shawnee Community Orchestra’s 16th season spring concert is scheduled for Tuesday, April 18, in Raley Chapel’s Potter Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. The evening will feature works by some of the world’s most famous composers including Stravinsky, Johann Strauss, Schubert, Smetana and Percy Grainger. The concert is free and open to the public.

Three OBU faculty guest artists will perform during the concert, including Rebecca Ballinger, assistant professor of voice; Dr. Louima Lilite, associate professor of music; and Dr. Benjamin Shute, assistant professor of music and director of the Preparatory Department. Conductor of the ensemble since its inception is Dr. Jim Hansford, retired Burton H. Patterson professor of music and Director of Bands Emeritus, 1990-2010. 

Works featured on the program will include “Triumph of the Argonauts” and “Appalachian Morning” by Robert Sheldon, “On The Beautiful Blue Danube Waltzes” by Johann Strauss, “Carmen Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra” by Bizet/Sarasate, “Colonial Song” by Percy Grainger, a vocal duet for soprano and tenor from “The Bartered Bride” by Bedrich Smetana, “Unfinished Symphony (1st movement)” by Schubert, and “Dance Infernale” from “The Firebird Suite” by Stravinsky.

New faculty member and concertmaster of the orchestra, Dr. Benjamin Shute, will be featured on the ever-popular virtuoso work “Carmen Fantasy” based on the primary themes from the famous Bizet opera, as reimagined by composer Pablo de Sarasate, a well-known Spanish violinist and composer in the late nineteenth century.

Ballinger, soprano, and Louima Lilite, tenor, will be performing as part of the orchestra on uniquely constructed vocal parts in Grainger’s “Colonial Song.” Grainger originally composed this work for solo piano as a gift to his mother, attempting “to write a melody as typical of the Australian countryside as Stephen Foster’s exquisite songs are typical of rural America.”

Ballinger and Lilite will also perform a vocal duet, “With My Mother Hope Was Ended,” from “The Bartered Bride.”

“There are crowd favorites that I will occasionally reprogram,” Hansford said. “In the 16 year history of the orchestra, this will be the third time we have performed Schubert’s ‘Unfinished Symphony.’”

Although Schubert only completed two movements, this work is regarded as one of the all-time greats in orchestral literature. Schubert started the work at age 25, and although he lived six more years, he never completed it. Sketches of a third movement were later discovered.

The OBU / Shawnee Community Orchestra was organized to provide a unique performance collaboration between amateur and professional musicians in the Greater Shawnee area by presenting quality performances of orchestral literature, and to serve as a laboratory for music majors and other music students at OBU. About half of the ensemble members come from the surrounding communities, including, Norman, Oklahoma City, Midwest City, Edmond, Harrah, Dale and Shawnee, while the remaining members are OBU students and faculty. The ensemble is divided almost equally between OBU students, faculty, and alumni, and members from the community. Orchestra members range in age from 16 to 70 years old and encompass a wide range of professions including educators, private music teachers, band directors, doctors, students, homemakers and more.

The orchestra’s string section is comprised of 22 players. String principals include concertmaster Ben Shute and Rebecca Panayiotou, violins; Aaron Bushong, viola; and Thresa Swadley, cello. A full complement of standard orchestral wind and percussion sections join the strings.

The community orchestra was organized in the fall of 2001 with the assistance of a grant from the Kirkpatrick Foundation in Oklahoma City. The orchestra’s inaugural performance was during the 2001 Hanging of the Green Christmas presentation at OBU. In 2012, the ensemble was chosen to perform as an honor organization at the Oklahoma Music Educators Convention in Tulsa. The ensemble rehearses once weekly for two hours on Monday evenings and follows the OBU academic calendar, which allows for 10 to 12 rehearsals each semester. 

Many generous donors from the Shawnee community have supported the orchestra and made it possible.

“We are extremely grateful to those individuals and businesses who step up and support this unique community musical endeavor,” remarked Hansford. “‘The Oklahoman’ reported a few years ago that Shawnee was the smallest city in our state to support such a community musical collaboration.”

Founding conductor Dr. Jim Hansford, a respected educator-conductor for more than 45 years, was recently inducted into the Oklahoma Music Educators “Hall of Fame.” He earned a Bachelor of Music Education from the University of Southern Mississippi. He also earned both a Master of Music Education and Doctor of Philosophy in music from the University of North Texas. His 46 year teaching career includes seven years in the public schools, 20 years at OBU, and director of bands positions at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and Wayland Baptist University (Texas). Hansford served for many years as conductor of the Texas and Oklahoma Baptist All-State Symphonic Bands including tours to England, British Columbia, Boston and Phoenix.