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OU’s American Organ Institute students, alumni, supporters gather to oppose closure plan, meet with administration

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Students, alumni and supporters of OU's American Organ Institute meet in Catlett Music Center's Gothic Hall June 17.

Current students, alumni and supporters of the American Organ Institute gathered in front of Evans Hall Monday after alumni and students learned OU may close the program.

Dozens of attendees met at 10 a.m. in Catlett Music Center’s Gothic Hall, where a performer played several pieces, including OU’s fight song, on the hall’s pipe organ. Applause from the crowd grew louder at each song’s conclusion, as the number of supporters increased to around 100.

The crowd walked to Evans Hall and stopped on the front steps, where Reilly announced OU Senior Vice President and Provost Kyle Harper agreed to meet with students and other organizers.

While awaiting the meeting, Nolan Reilly, OU alumnus and director of music at St. Thomas More University Parish, announced AOI had received over 200 letters of support “with more flooding in” from places around the U.S. and the world, such as the Palace of Versailles in France and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.

Reilly said when OU decided to close the institute, “they thought this was a tiny group that no one would ever notice.”

Reilly sent an email Saturday to current students, alumni and supporters of AOI scheduling the Monday gathering. In the email, Reilly said he had learned OU intended to cut seven positions at AOI and close the program, despite an offer from the institute saying it could remain open for two more years on private funds.

Solena Rizzato, a fifth-year senior majoring in organ technology, told The Daily Saturday that the degree is the only of its kind in the nation, training students to build and repair organs. The AOI also has the last remaining organ shop in the state, Rizzato said.

Roland Lohmann, an OU graduate and Norman business owner, said students have helped rebuild organs across the state, including in Norman’s Trinity Lutheran Church.

“They’ve left their mark all over the state,” Lohmann said. “They’ve worked very closely major organ builders as well … it’s an ideal situation and we’re just not gonna see that disappear.”

Lohmann said the college has helped bring in skills from across the world, with workshops conducted by “some of the top technicians and builders in the United States.”

The outpouring of support was no surprise given the footprint AOI graduates have in places across the country, Lohmann said.

“I expected it because I know what their contacts are,” Lohmann said. “A graduate of this institute was the organist at St. Patrick’s Cathedral for over 40 years, in New York City. Our students, even in the original program, have been in major teaching institutions … all along, this is a very outstanding and well-known program.”

Reilly said the efforts of AOI’s supporters have focused on remaining positive and highlighting the merits of the institute, like the uniqueness of the program and skill sets it provides.

“The fact is, the University of Oklahoma is the only institution in the world right now,” Reilly said, “that is producing students that, if you’re in the middle of a church service or performance and the organ malfunctions, instead of calling a teach you’re gonna get your butt up there, get the wrench out and you’re gonna fix it yourself.”

Reilly said Monday’s turnout was only a small portion of the AOI’s supporters.

“When I sent out this email on Saturday, I had no idea my phone would explode like it has,” Reilly said, “but we have support from all over the world right now.”

Reilly said Harroz has agreed to meet with students and AOI supporters “later this week,” but Reilly did not know a specific date.

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