A Wichita State University professor of organ has been awarded one of France’s most distinguished titles by the country’s Minister of Culture and Communications.
The title, Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters, or Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, was given to WSU’s Lynne Davis and recognizes influential artists and writers who have contributed to and encouraged French art and literature around the world.
The distinction is bestowed on up to 200 French citizens a year, and also open to French nationals. Davis lived in France for 35 years and gained citizenship after marrying a Frenchman.
“I am very very pleased and honored and as a French citizen,” said Davis.
“I think my parents would have been so pleased and my late husband Pierre Firmin Didot would have been very very pleased and proud that I have gotten this distinction.”
Davis grew up in a musical family in Michigan and began playing the piano at age 7.
“My mother and father met in the church choir where we went as young children and took piano lessons from the director and organist at the church and it just naturally evolved into taking organ lessons and at the age of 13,” said Davis.
“It was a natural thing to do and I never thought of doing anything else.”
While studying organ at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor Davis’ professors encouraged her to travel to France for further study. As an organist, there is a pull to France and other countries in Europe because they have amazing historical instruments unmatched in the US.
“Historical Instruments which one must be able to play at one time or another just to get the sounds in ones heads and the touch under ones fingers to be able to interpret and perform the works of historical composers,” said Davis.
“And that really makes a difference. Plus learning the language of the country where you are staying and another culture, it is always very enriching and when you speak the language of the music you play, it gives you a different sense of style, a different lilt in how you interpret different periods of music. It could be old music it could be modern music, it is definitely a plus in todays world.”
When Davis headed to France as a young college graduate she never thought it would turn into 35 years, but after studying under some of the country’s best organists, she went on to teach at two national conservatories.
“I had a chance to make a difference, as an American, as a woman over there,” said Davis.
“And at one point after the death of my husband in 2001 I decided that my talent wasn’t being used enough and I thought well maybe I should go back to the states and so that was what I did in coming over here, to Wichita state.”
Davis’ love of French culture and music as spilled over in her role as an educator at Wichita state. Last year she organized a festival honoring French organist and brother of her former mentor, John Alian. And on the first Wednesday of every month Davis plays the organ, often accompanied, for her Wednesdays in Widemann concert series.
It is part of Davis’ personal mission to share organ music of all kinds with the Wichita community, especially since WSU is home to The Great Marcussen Organ.
“I think of this everyday,” she said. “What a gem this whole ensemble is - the hall and the organ, built together for each other in 1986, to have that in this community.”
Davis will travel to France sometime in the next year for a ceremony in her honor. In the mean time she will continue to teach, promote the music and culture of France and play the organ.