From playing in church to playing the largest organ in the western hemisphere WSU student expands his horizon


Rachel Rudisill

Senior Dakota Bennett playing Suite Medievale. Suite Medievale is often played at the beginning of masses.

Growing up, Wichita State senior Dakota Bennett would run around his house playing William Tell’s Overture as loud as possible on his family violin. He would wake up his two younger brothers – on purpose. 

To avoid being woken up at the crack of dawn, Bennett’s family decided to upgrade from an easy-to-grab violin to a grand piano. Music was a part of Bennett’s life at a young age. Although violin was not his passion, Bennett knew he wanted to somehow make music.

At the age of 12, he learned how to play the piano. He also developed a passion for playing. When he turned 16, Bennett wanted to learn how to play the organ. 

“The nearest church to my house was this little Lutheran church [Grace and Trinity Lutheran],” Bennett said. “I walked in one day, and I asked if I could practice and they were like, ‘sure.’ They were delighted to have someone to play the organ because that can be a challenge as well. Particularly for smaller churches finding an organist.”

Bennett began to play during masses at Grace and Trinity Lutheran.

“Church musicians get the brunt of performing, like all the crazy stuff happens and you just have to keep going,” Bennett said. “I’ve learned I am very jaded to it.” 

In the summer of 2015 – at the age of 16 – Bennett met his first organ teacher Shirley Weibe while participating in the Pipe Organ Encounter. The Pipe Organ Encounter is put on by the American Guild of Organists. It is a week-long camp where children from all over the country participate in lessons, workshops and recitals. This is what gave Bennett confidence in playing the organ. 

Bennett worked with Weibe until his junior year of high school. After working with Weibe, he began learning under Lynne Davis at Wichita State University. 

“If you want to study French music, there is no better teacher. She just has so much practical knowledge on the subject,” Bennett said.  

Davis is the organ performance instructor at WSU, from Michigan, however, she moved to France for 35 years to study French music. Her professor grew ill and she was forced to stay in France for another year. When she met her husband, she decided to remain in France until gaining her current position at WSU. Since returning, Davis teaches at organ camps. 

“He was in high school [when I first heard him play]. It was one of my organ days for kids who weren’t in college who wanted to try this great organ,” Davis said. “He came up and he played a hymn. He hadn’t had any formal organ lessons, but he was already passionate about the organ.” 

“He had a lot of work to do. It wasn’t easy. Nobody’s brilliant when you start out. You have to realize that and work hard and he did,” Davis said.

This was the first time Bennett played the Great Marcussen Organ. The organ was the first Marcussen built in America and is the largest organ in the western hemisphere. Since then, Davis and Bennett have built a strong student-teacher relationship.

“For me, that should be a regular student-teacher relationship,” Davis said. “It’s not all honey and sometimes a teacher has to push a little harder to make them (students) aware of their shortcomings. I have pushed him harder than he would have perhaps wanted to in his own practice.”

Bennett is one of the two organ performances at WSU who was set to graduate in 2021.

“Covid threw a wrench in it all,” said Bennett. “If it wasn’t for that, I would have graduated last year.” 

Even though covid paused Bennett’s goals, he was able to learn under Davis for another year.

“I carry a lot of respect for Professor Davis. I have studied under her for almost five years, longer than anyone, so she has really shifted my style as an organist.” 

This semester, he will perform his 45-minute senior recital. 

“There is a lot of modern repertoire for the organ, but I will not be playing any of that. I’m a bit of an old soul. There will be some Bach, of course,” Bennett said. 

Some experiences Bennett has include meeting three organists from Notre Dame as well as playing music for glee his freshman year.

“The most fun I ever had was my first year. My piano incumbent class with Dr. Justine Sasanfar,” Bennett said. “We got to accompany one of the choirs, women’s glee. It was a good experience. She is a wonderful teacher and there were just three of us, another organist and a composition major. We had a blast in that class. We had fun, but we learned a lot.”

Bennett has learned from others not only at WSU but from all composers, the guild and his mentors. Bennett also learned how others react to music.  

“He is very sensitive to other people and their needs,” Davis said. “He is aware of what is going on around him. It’s not just the music. He asks himself ‘how does music affect other people?’ and he sees what it takes to succeed.”

Bennett made an impact in the music department as a fine arts ambassador. He was an ambassador for almost five years and is thought highly upon by Davis and her peers. 

After graduation, Bennett plans to continue playing music in churches.

“Making progress doesn’t mean it’s always easy,” Davis said. “It’s not like looking something up on the phone or in a manual trade, which is really what a musician is. It is like being somebody in sports. You have to practice. Dakota has succeeded in that and it’s something other students can learn from.”