By David West
NATCHITOCHES – The Mrs. H.D. Dear Sr. and Alice E. D. Dear School of Creative and Performing Arts is welcoming seven new members to the CAPA Hall of Fame for 2019.
This year’s honorees are Burt Allen, Robert Alost, Joel Ebarb, James Ford, Richard Jennings, Shirley Jennings and Rivers Murphy. The latest group of inductees are being honored at various Creative and Performing Arts events throughout the spring semester.
Allen, who was hired in 1983, was director of choral activities at NSU for 32 years. He is responsible for laying the foundation for the outstanding choral program at NSU.
Allen was the first NSU faculty member to appear in Carnegie Hall, and the NSU Chamber Choir under his direction is the only NSU ensemble to appear there in a solo performance.
Allen was the first to lead an NSU musical ensemble on a European tour. He was the first CAPA faculty member to successfully author an externally funded grant, followed by several others, totaling more than $350,000 which created the first music computer labs, purchased a number of Yamaha Disklavier pianos and funded a class piano lab and multimedia capabilities for several classrooms. He initiated the local tradition of performing the Candlelight Service of Lessons and Carols in Natchitoches.
He retired from Northwestern State in 2015 and continues to be active in the choral music field. Allen serves as the artistic director for the Red River Chorale in Alexandria.
Alost was Northwestern State’s president from 1986 to 1996. Over that 10-year period, he led the university to an unprecedented period of growth, laying the foundation for future progress in all areas. Enrollment at Northwestern State increased from 5,272 to more than 9,000 while he was president. Alost was the president at the initial organization of the Department of Creative and Performing Arts. He was also instrumental in establishing the budget in the area of scholarships which has been so important to the development of CAPA programs.
Before becoming president, he served NSU as a faculty member, department head and dean. Alost was co-founder of the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts and director of the school from 1982 to 1986.
He was inducted into the Northwestern Alumni Hall of Distinction, the Long Purple Line, in 2005. Alost was named a Natchitoches Treasure in 2018.
Ebarb is professor of theatre in the Patti and Rusty Rueff School of Design, Art, and Performance at Purdue University. He serves as senior associate dean for undergraduate education and international programs in the College of Liberal Arts. Previously, he served as chair of the Department of Theatre from 2011-2015, and Director of Undergraduate Theatre Studies from 2009-2011. Ebarb began his career at Purdue in 1997.
His teaching, research, and creative endeavor are focused primarily in costume design for the entertainment industry. Ebarb has costume design credits throughout the United States and internationally. He is an accomplished puppeteer, occasional director and playwright and novice performer.
Ebarb is a popular speaker and presents a series of lectures and workshops using theatre techniques to improve skills in teaching and interpersonal communication. He is an award-winning educator and was a 2011 recipient of the Charles B. Murphy Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching, Purdue University’s highest undergraduate teaching honor.
Ebarb is an alumnus of NSU’s Eta Omicron chapter of Theta Chi Fraternity.
Ford was a local businessman and community leader who was gifted with a beautiful operatic voice and who tirelessly gave to the community. A 1955 graduate of Louisiana State University (LSU) School of Music, he then married Jo Ann Breedlove of Natchitoches. After serving in the U.S. Army as a Korean Conflict helicopter pilot, he returned to Natchitoches where he was in the residential and commercial construction and development business for 33 years.
Ford had leading roles in numerous NSU productions and was a bass soloist with the Natchitoches-Northwestern Symphony Orchestra and NSU Chorus. Ford also performed at Pops Concerts, several benefit concerts with opera star Eugenie Chopin Watson and at numerous weddings, funerals and special events, often with tenor Jim Bob Key.
From 1959 to 1971 Ford was music director at First United Methodist Church and also served on the Board of Stewards. He was active in local civic clubs served on the City Bank & Trust Co. Board of Directors. Ford served on the Natchitoches Industries and Chamber of Commerce Boards, Cane River Development, Inc. president and Associated General Contractors for Central Louisiana president.
Ford was president of the Natchitoches-Northwestern Symphony Society for 1971-72. A November 2000 concert in his honor was presented by the NSU Symphony Orchestra and Choirs, performing Faure’s “Requiem.”
Richard Jennings joined Northwestern State’s faculty in 1971, teaching horn, serving as a band director and teaching music education courses. He served as a piano accompanist for his horn studio and recruited for the entire music department. In the early 1980s, he became music department head, and was instrumental in the building of the Fine Arts Annex. Richard Jennings met with architects daily and lobbied for many changes to the building plan that have proved to be essential to the success of the facility. He was responsible for the addition of the 40-rank Reuter organ for Magale Recital Hall. He convinced the architects to install doors big enough to fit a piano through each of the rehearsal halls, and, imagining the years of moving pianos and marimbas, he also convinced them to pave over the stairs and instead build a ramp to access backstage Magale Recital Hall.
Another proud accomplishment was serving on hiring committees that brought in a round of distinguished and successful music professors that grew the department into what it is today.
Richard Jennings was president of the Louisiana Bandmasters Association in 1966-67 and was elected LBA Bandmaster of the Year in 1967. He was inducted into the Louisiana Music Educators’ Association Hall of Fame in 1992. He served on the Board of the Natchitoches-Northwestern Symphony Society throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s and beyond. After his retirement from NSU in 1994, he taught class piano and piano lessons to non-majors for several years.
Shirley Jennings taught harp, violin, and piano for the music department at Northwestern State University from 1971 to 2015, and also served in the Registrar’s Office for many years. She taught adjunct harp, violin and viola at the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts. She also maintained a large and vibrant music studio out of her home where she taught hundreds of students to play harp and violin. As a performer, Shirley Jennings was engaged by the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra, the Natchitoches/Northwestern Symphony Orchestra, the South Arkansas Symphony and many other regional orchestras.
She was a member of the Louisiana chapter of the National Music Teachers Association, serving as state harp chair from 1995 to 2007, and receiving their Distinguished Service Award in 2011. Shirley Jennings was a member of the American Harp Society, the American String Teachers Association and the American String Orchestra Association. She was the director of the NSU Harp Ensemble for many years, featured annually at the NSU Christmas Gala. She was the Faculty Sponsor for the NSU chapter of Sigma Alpha Iota.
Murphy joined Northwestern State’s faculty in 1966 and retired in 2004. He has worked in a number of media including sculpture, stained glass, printmaking, design, drawing, crafts and glassblowing. Many of Murphy’s works have appeared in exhibitions or are in private collections throughout the United States and Canada.
Murphy was a member of a state task force on arts education in the state public schools and another task force which developed a test instrument for the evaluation of art-talented public school students.
He was the sculptor of a creation to honor playwright Bobby Harling, the author of the play and screenwriter of the film “Steel Magnolias,” and the artist and designer of a special commemorative coin to honor country music singer Roy Acuff on the 50th anniversary of his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry.
Murphy was the recipient of the Louisiana Art Education Association’s 1990 Outstanding Supervision/Administration Art Educator of the Year Award.