An orchestra is capable of the softest pianissimos and very loud fortississimo. Few single instruments has this ability. Pipe organs have this dynamic range. Organist Ken Cowan demonstrates this on the Kilgen Organ at Our Lady of Refuge Church in Brooklyn. The set of Variations by Franz Liszt are perfect to demonstrate this.

The entire organ at Our Lady of Refuge is under expression. This means that the dynamic range of the pipes can be changed by opening and closing two sets of louvers. Closing the louvers makes the pipes sound soft in the church. Thus when they are opened the same pipes sound loud. The volume of sound the pipes makes do not change, just the position of the louvers.

Great talent is required to seamlessly move sound of a pipe organ through such a crescendo. With a larger pipe organ it is easier to accomplish this seamless progression. On a smaller instrument it is much more difficult as stops have to be very carefully chosen and swell box movements carefully planned out. In this video organist Ken Cowan demonstrates the perfect example of dynamic control of a pipe organ. He plays Franz Liszt’s Variations on Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen. It starts off on a soft flute on the choir organ, with swelling of the choir box and then builds to full organ and back down. Mr. Cowan’s control is so great and precise that as the piece moves forward the changes in dynamic and tone color all melt into one another.

If you enjoyed this video visit our website for a recording of this same work but played on a massive 4-manual Skinner Organ with 32-Stops and a very complete solo organ.

The pipe work on this organ was restored by A.R. Schopp’s Sons of Alliance Ohio, David Schopp restored all of the reeds on the pipe organ to their current glorious sound. The organ was reinstalled by Quimby Pipe Organs who also over saw the restoration and upgrading of the organ console.

Ken Cowan is Associate Professor and head of the organ program at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music in Houston, Texas. Ken Cowan is represented for organ recitals by Karen McFarlane Artists.