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Ken Cowan at the Organ

Ken Cowan on C.B. Fisk Rosales Organ Shepherd School of Music Rice University

Ken Cowan is Associate Professor and head of the organ department at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music. He teaches on a rather spectacular instrument at the University.  Rice’s main concert pipe organ was built as a collaboration between C.B. Fisk and Rosales Organ Builders under the direction of Cylde Holloway (1936 – 2013). The instrument is C.B. Fisk Opus 109 and Rosales Opus 20. It and the hall were finished through a gift to Rice University by the late Mrs. Edythe Bates Old. The pipe organ was entirely built in Gloucester, Massachusetts in 1995 and delivered to the Shepherd School of Music on January 15, 1996. The instrument’s design was inspired by French organs of the 18th, 19th and 20th century and contains 75 stops and has 4493 pipes. The stunning case was designed by Charles Nazarian.

Ken Cowan and JAV Recordings have worked together for a long time.

Mr. Cowan’s first recording with JAV was made while he was still a Graduate Student at Yale in fall 1999. The two had met the previous year when Ken agreed to help with a recording project undertaken by his classmate Stuart Forster on the 1930 Skinner Organ, Opus 820 at Holy Rosary Cathedral in Toledo, Ohio. Ken still remembers leaving for Toledo in a Mini-Van at 6am the morning after his master’s recital from the door of Woolsey Hall with Joseph Dzeda telling Ken, Joe Vitacco and Stuart Forster to drive safely to Detroit. We had plenty of time on the long road trip to dream of future projects. Ken also recall’s Joe being pulled over and receiving a speeding ticket somewhere in Pennsylvania east of Clarion.

Ken Cowan’s first recording with JAV Recordings was made on the 1925 Skinner Organ, Opus 475 at Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church in Detroit; it is long out of print. Since then Mr. Cowan has collaborated on many projects with us. He recorded several landmark Skinner organs included the one at Holy Rosary Cathedral in Toledo and the Parish of Saint Luke in Evanston, Illinois. He has made several videos for JAV Recordings at Our Lady of Refuge Catholic Church in the Diocese of Brooklyn on the restored Kilgen.

Ken asked if Joe Vitacco wanted to visit him in Houston, Texas, particularly since Joe had always wanted to see and hear the organ at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music. It is stunning instrument built by C.B. Fisk / Rosales organ builders. The original plan of the visit was not to make recordings. But, as fate would have it, a recording just sort of happened. Mix a great organist, a tremendous pipe organ and Joe Vitacco and you can only imagine the outcome.

January 26, 2018 Joe Vitacco took a very early morning flight from Washington DC to Houston, Texas. When Ken took him to the music building at the Shepherd School of Music he was not prepared for what was on the other side of a nondescript white door.  A stunning French classic organ case of Honduran mahogany that rises fifty-five feet from the floor. The largest pipe in the facade is FF of the 32-foot open. Photos do not do the organ justice.

The C. B. Fisk / Rosales Organ is exquisite; everything is right about it.

It is very powerful but also has beautifully refined stops, with much gentle nuance. The swell boxes are very effective. The pneumatic assist that was designed by C.B. Fisk is much faster and more responsive than the Barker Levers on Cavaillé-Coll’s great organs. Walking around the insides of the Grand Orgue division of the C.B. Fisk / Rosales Organ, one could not help but notice the similarities in the layout of this division to the same division of the Cavaillé-Coll organ at Saint-Sulpice in Paris.

Over the next few days Ken played and Joe recorded Reger’s Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D, BWV 532, Marcel Dupré’s Variations on a Noël and Liszt/Horowitz/Baker Rakoczi March. When the recordings are finalized they will likely be posted to JAV Recordings YouTube. Subscribe to our YouTube Channel to stay up to date. 

Please remember none of these recordings are “free” to make. If the recordings are posted for free to YouTube, they really aren’t free. Much of Ken’s time went into preparing the music as well as Joe Vitacco’s time and investment in expensive recording equipment by JAV Recordings.  

If you enjoy our free videos, consider supporting our further endeavors through a purchase of some of our excellent CD recordings. Don’t forget to tell your friends about our recorded documents of these fascinating instruments! Thank you.

3 responses to “Ken Cowan on C.B. Fisk Rosales Organ Shepherd School of Music Rice University

  1. Again, blue ray surround rendering is preferred but I realize the cost. SACD isn’t good enough. Audiophiles will pay more for this with the superior LFE performance. Do these on the Spivey Hall organ.



    1. Dave in a perfect world you would be correct. There is no way to justify the cost. There are not enough audiophiles to pay for these expensive recordings. Heck computers don’t even come with CD drives or DVD drives anymore. It is a situation I wish was different. All the best.

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