Digital organ brings holiday excitement to Bethany College

Jean Kozubowski
Special to The Salina Journal
Hentus van Rooyen, sacred music coordinator and college organist, plays on the new Rodgers Artist Series 599T digital organ in Pearson Chapel at Bethany College.

LINDSBORG — Christmas will be different at Bethany College this year.

Jultide, the popular hymn festival typically held on the first Sunday in December, has been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the semester ending Nov. 24, few performers will be left on campus.

However, Bethany faculty and staff are working on another hymn festival and a radio-style play people can enjoy from their home computers.

Jultide will be replaced with “Advent at Bethany: Journey with the Magi, a Festival of Discovery through Hymns, Scripture, & Reflections” at 4 p.m. Nov. 15. The concert will be livestreamed at

This combination of hymns and reflections will give the college a chance to show off its new digital organ.

David Rankin, owner of RankinOrgans150 in Ellsworth, installed the Rodgers Artist Series 599T digital organ last week and this week in Pearson Chapel on the Bethany campus.

Designs for Pearson Chapel included a pipe organ, and one wall has been designated for it, said Hentus van Rooyen, assistant professor of sacred music and the college organist. When the budget allows, the pipe organ will be installed there, he said.

In the meantime, the college has purchased the digital organ with a grant from the Roubach family, which covered the full cost of $45,000 for the purchase and installation.

“It looks like a pipe organ and sounds like a pipe organ but it’s not a pipe organ,” said Rankin, with stops the organist can pull out or push in to change the tone. “I don’t ever want to feel I’m replacing a pipe organ.”

All the “stops” are pushed in or pulled out and are sampled, or recorded, from real pipe organs. Rankin programs the organ’s computer to fit the acoustic space and the organist.

Bethany College does own four or five pipe organs, but this will give students in the sacred music program experience with what they might actually play, Van Rooyen said.

“A lot of students will go out and play for churches,” Rankin said. “A lot of churches have pipe organs, a lot of churches have digital organ, a lot of churches have old yucky electronic organs.”

It is exciting to see the vision for the chapel’s organ get closer to reality, said Amy Truhe, campus chaplain.

The organ will make its public debut Sunday with the advent program.

Advent season

“We wanted to do (Jultide) but there was a feeling it might be more appropriate to do something else,” Van Rooyen said.

He said he and Truhe work closely together in the sacred music program, and they came up with the idea of an advent program focusing on the Magi.

She will reflect on the meaning of the hymns and has asked some students to write about surprises in their lives, good or bad, like the surprise Herod got when he learned a new king had been born.

Advent means “arrival,” Truhe said.

“We are arriving; we have not arrived yet; we are not at Christmas; we are not done with COVID; we are not through with pandemic weirdness,” Truhe said.

“Usually the wise men don’t get a lot of focus,” Van Rooyen said. “We talk about them only during Epiphany. But they didn’t just travel overnight. This has been a journey for everybody, certainly. So we are focusing on how we can walk toward Christ.”

Van Rooyen will play on the digital organ a selection of hymns, mostly very familiar ones. The college’s handbell ensemble, which he directs, will also play.

There won’t be an audience, but some students are being asked to attend. Social distancing and coronavirus guidelines will be observed, he said.

“We need someone to sing the hymns,” he said.

Hopefully, Van Rooyen said, people at home will sing along. The program is available to download on the college’s website.

A Christmas Carol’

To “bring a little bit of holiday spirit in what could be a difficult holiday season,” Bethany is offering a multimedia performance of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” said Greg LeGault, associate professor of theater.

“We can’t have Christmas as we usually do it,” he said. “We’re doing it with voices, almost like a radio play. Then we want to put it on the website so people can listen to it over the holidays, like a little Christmas present.”

It’s been a collaborative effort.

Some of the college choirs recorded carols to use in-between staves, he said. The cast includes students and staff and faculty.

“It’s a classic,” LeGault said. “Once every year it’s the story we listen to.”

“Advent at Bethany: Journey with the Magi, a Festival of Discovery through Hymns, Scripture, & Reflections”

4 p.m. Nov. 15

“A Christmas Carol”

Livestreamed at

David Rankin, of RankinOrgans150, uses his hands and feet to play the digital organ during the installation of the Rodgers Artist Series 599T organ, the sixth organ on campus at Bethany College.