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Ouachita Stories


Piano duo’s Arkadelphia visit encourages music education awareness

April 03, 2009 - Brooke Showalter

Award-winning piano duo Naomi Sanchez and Stephen Varney, known as Pas de Duo, will present a free concert at Ouachita Baptist University as part of an effort to raise music education awareness in the Arkadelphia community. The concert will be held at 7:30 p.m. on April 16 in Mabee Fine Arts Center’s McBeth Recital Hall on Ouachita’s campus. The duo also will serve as judges for Ouachita’s Virginia Queen Piano Competition on April 17.

The San Francisco-based duo will visit Peake Elementary School as well as Central and Perritt Primary Schools and Goza Middle School in Arkadelphia April 16 and 17 to perform a selection of piano duets and speak about the benefits of music education. They will involve select students in demonstrations and activities, as well. Parents are invited to attend both the school assemblies and the free concert at OBU.

“The arts and music are critically important in creating a society where creativity and beauty are valued, appreciated and enjoyed,” said Dr. Ouida Keck, OBU professor of piano and piano pedagogy and coordinator of keyboard studies. “An increased awareness of the value of music study among parents and individuals not involved in the arts is essential for the survival of music in the future. We have a responsibility to share the benefits and joys of music with others.”

Keck, along with the Arkadelphia Philharmonic Club, a member of the Arkansas Federation of Music Clubs and National Federation of Music Clubs (NFMC), organized the event after noticing a decline in the number of students studying piano. Keck, a former NFMC president, was drawn to the duo after attending their 2006 Carnegie Hall debut and observing them working with young people to generate interest in music.

“Their love for music is contagious,” Keck said. “They are outstanding role models for our students as professional performers while maintaining careers as independent piano teachers.”

Pas de Duo’s visit to Arkadelphia is made possible by a Ross Foundation Grant. The Ross Foundation is an Arkadelphia-based philanthropic organization founded by Arkadelphia native Jane Ross and her mother, Esther Ross. The foundation has been supporting Clark County, focusing primarily on educational programs, for more than 40 years.

A graduate of Henderson State University, Jane Ross received numerous honors in the Arkadelphia community, including a “Purple and Gold Award” from Ouachita. The foundation has consistently supported both Henderson State and Ouachita over the years. After Ross’ death in 1999, family member Ross Whipple became chairman of the foundation. To date, the Ross Foundation has contributed more than $10 million to the Arkadelphia community.

Pas de Duo will open their “Macabre” concert at OBU with Camilles Saint-Saëns’ “Danse macabre,” followed by Francis Poulenc’s “Capriccio d’après Le Bal masqué,” Manuel Infante’s “Sentimiento” and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dance No. 1.” After a brief intermission, they will continue with Aram Khachaturian’s “Masquerade Waltz,” concluding with Franz Liszt’s “Les Preludes.”

After conducting the school assemblies and performing in concert at OBU, Sanchez and Varney will remain in Arkadelphia to judge OBU’s Virginia Queen Piano Competition on April 17.

The annual competition is named for former OBU piano faculty member Virginia Queen, who taught at the university for more than 40 years. Queen established an endowment and began the competition while teaching at OBU to motivate Ouachita’s piano majors to excel in their field. Cash prizes will be given to the winners from the endowment fund. Contributors to the fund include Queen’s friends and former students as well as Queen herself, who now lives in Little Rock.

Sanchez and Varney have been performing as Pas de Duo since 2005 when they earned first prize at the National Federation of Music Club’s Ellis Duo-Piano Competition. They are also the recipients of the Abild American Music Award and the Charles & Francis Christmann Award and earned first prize at the Bradshaw & Buono International Piano Competition. In 2006 they made their highly acclaimed Carnegie Hall recital debut, and they have been guest artists at the Chautauqua Institution, the Kurosawa Piano Music Foundation and the San Francisco International Music Festival. The duo has also performed with the New York Philomusica.

For more information about Pas de Duo and their visit to Arkadelphia or music education at Ouachita, contact Dr. Ouida Keck at [email protected] or (870) 245-5352.

By Brooke Showalter



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