If you drop by the Bales Organ Recital Hall any time, day or night, you'll likely hear music coming from the giant pipe organ. The instrument is booked by Kansas University students at least 18 hours a day.
"It's booked for that long, but a lot of the students stay longer," said James Higdon, who was named the university's first Dane and Polly Bales Teaching Professor in Organ last spring. "It is one of the best facilities in the world."
Polly and Dane Bales, KU alumni from Logan, financed the purchase of the hall's pipe organ, and the Dane G. Hansen Foundation provided money to build the recital hall five years ago. In addition, a bequest they established will eventually pay for programming and maintenance of the hall.
"This is an academic student facility. It's a big practice room for students," Higdon said. "Everything we do is open to the public, mostly without charge. It's like a laboratory for the students a 100 percent for-the-student facility and the students take advantage of it."
Higdon said KU offers bachelor, master and doctorate degrees in both organ performance and organ church music.
"We have 12 new organ students coming (this fall)," he said. "We had 40 students studying organ (last spring), both nonmajors and majors."
The students come from throughout the world, including Austria, Yugoslavia, Korea and Israel.
"We have one of the three or four leading organ programs in the United States," Higdon said. "The University of Michigan, Indiana University and Eastman School of Music are the largest programs and our competition."
In addition to Higdon, faculty include Michael Bauer, associate professor of organ, and Elizabeth Berghout, carillonneur and assistant professor of organ. The program also has three half-time teaching assistants.
Higdon said students who graduate with a degree in organ performance or organ church music "can do all kinds of things." Typically, they teach organ music at the university level, are hired by a church or become concertmasters or conduct choirs.
Higdon has set some goals for the organ program:
Increase the number of national and international organ conferences at KU. An international organ conference is planned for fall 2002 that will feature Olivier Latry, organist for the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
Marie-Claire Alain will come to KU in March for a recital and Susan Landale is tentatively scheduled to appear in October. Both are renown organists from Paris.
Expand the facility to include additional practice and teaching rooms. Currently, the students use four practice rooms in Murphy Hall, a small organ in Higdon's office and the large organ in the recital hall.
Increase the number of scores, recordings and resources available to students.
Provide more help to students studying abroad and increase faculty and student exchanges, particularly to Europe.
"The Baleses had the vision for these things," Higdon said. "All we're doing is trying to fulfill their vision."