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The Carthage Press
  • A lifetime of achievement

  • In a service filled with laughter, music and emotion, members of the Carthage First United Methodist Church paid tribute to a musician who has played in the church since 1939 and trained hundreds of musicians himself.


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  • In a service filled with laughter, music and emotion, members of the Carthage First United Methodist Church paid tribute to a musician who has played in the church since 1939 and trained hundreds of musicians himself.
    Robert A. Harris, Carthage, was the center of attention on Sunday as pianists, singers and others sang and played his praises as someone who influenced their lives, their church and the entire community.
    “It was just an honor,” said Tommy Hilton, pianist from Kansas City who grew up in Carthage. “Mr. Harris taught a lot of students and for me to be singled out as one of two that got to play here today is probably one of the greatest honors of my life. Bob Harris had a certain standard for his students and I still remember his teaching as I practice today.”
    The church program said Harris first played in the church in 1939 at the age of 11.
    He got his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the Kansas State Teachers College at Pittsburg, Kan., now known as Pittsburg State University, and was awarded a piano teaching certificate before graduating from college.
    After a stint in the U.S. Army between 1952 and 1955, he studied piano with the famed Juilliard professor Rosina Lhevinne, who taught other famed pianists such as Van Cliburn.
    Here in Southwest Missouri, Harris has taught hundreds of students and been accredited by numerous state and national organizations.
    He was on the faculty of the College of Our Lady of the Ozarks and at Missouri Southern State University for years.
    Vivian León, long-time director of the Missouri Southern International Piano Competition before it ended in 2008, said Harris played a big role in that competition during its 20-year run.
    “He was not only a judge with us for many, many years, listening to tapes day in and day out for weeks on end, but I depended on him so much because he was so knowledgeable,” León said. “We had all these people coming in from all over the world playing all kinds of music that sometimes we didn’t even know where it came from. He always did the research and gave us the yes or no on anything that we needed to do. He was absolutely my rock for many years, and I appreciate him so much.”
    David Mouton, Jasper County judge and one of Harris’ students, played in Sunday’s service.
    “I was nervous because I wanted to honor my former teacher and I saw many accomplished musician who I knew in the crowd,” Mouton said. “It was an honor to take part and great to encourage and appreciate Mr. Harris for all the work he’s done in the church and the community and with music.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Virginia Terry, singer who performed The Lord’s Prayer at the service, spoke about coming to Carthage and how Bob accompanied her any time she asked.
    “He was a kind man,” she said. “He willingly played for me for anything that I chose to sing and I could always depend on him.”
    The highlight of the service was when Harris himself, who suffers from dementia, came to the piano and played one of his favorite selections, the Clair de Lune by Claude Debussy.
    Pastor James Lee turned the pages for Harris as he played.
    “He told Virginia Terry one time that Clair de Lune was probably one of the two pieces he really felt like he truly ever mastered,” Lee said. “He’s been one constant in the midst of change, through the years. He’s always dependable, whatever we needed, whatever you wish, whatever you want, I just want to do what pleases you. He’s that one steady thing that’s always been there.”
    Lee said the service was important to let Harris know he is loved.
    “We as a church have taken for granted for 30 years-plus what we have had and it’s a tremendous gift,” Lee said. “We want to make sure that Bob knows how much he’s loved, how much he is appreciated, how important he is to us and that we are his family and we’re always going to be here for him.”
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