The Chapel, Part I

There’s much to tell about our visit to the chapel and the research that followed. I’m going to start with the organ and the guy who played it, because I like it and I like him as well.

I was really struck by what a dominating presence this instrument has in the chapel itself, kind of looming up above. It’s also, even at a glance, obviously something special, not your ordinary off-the-rack organ. And Newton and Eugenia Rayzor, the people most responsible for the chapel’s existence, would certainly have made sure that it was furnished with a first rate instrument. It’s certainly still beautiful all these years later.


When I went back to the Woodson I was eager to find out more about this. There wasn’t really much there, but I did unearth some photos that I think were used to make the program for the dedication of the chapel on February 8, 1959. This ceremony features the organ very prominently. So I went off and started looking elsewhere, just asking around campus and calling up a church organist here in town. I soon found out that the organ in the chapel is indeed quite a special one. It was designed and built by one of the premier organ builders in the United States, Charles Benton Fisk. (Here‘s a short, kind of incredible, bio.) Fisk had been a physicist, and had played a small role in the Manhattan Project during World War II. After the war he abandoned physics for organ building. He built the Rice organ at the very beginning of his career–it was, in fact, his Opus 1–while he was still working for the Andover Organ Company. Many years later, in collaboration with Rosales Organ Builders, Fisk built the Edythe Bates Olds organ for the Shepherd School.

It's not quite this neat up there anymore. And I don't really understand who these chairs are meant for?

I freely admit that I know precious little about pipe organs, but even a little bit of research reveals the existence of a deeply rich, interesting and complex world. Even if you think you aren’t interested in pipe organs, this short video (on Youtube, no less) about Fisk and his work is well worth your time. It’s only ten minutes–give it a shot. This was a remarkable man. I’m awed that we have two of his organs at Rice. And I don’t awe easily.

I’ll leave the organist for later. He deserves his own post too.

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4 Responses to The Chapel, Part I

  1. Kathy says:

    Chairs are maybe for a small choir in between songs?

  2. David M. Bynog says:

    Oh, a Fisk organ is impressive; maybe worth a Cornerstone article. I am also eagerly awaiting a post about the carillon.

  3. Michael Rog says:

    We actually have three ‘C. B. Fisk’ organs at Rice, but only one of them was actually built by Charles Fisk: the organ in the Chapel, his Opus 1.

    Opus 109/21 (in the E. B. Old Organ) is one of my favorite instruments in the world, both for its stunning aesthetics and for its musical versatility. It was designed and built collaboratively by C. B. Fisk Inc. and Rosales Organ Builders; the project began in 1995, long after Charles Fisk died in 1983.

    Then in 1999, the Shepherd School again contracted C. B. Fisk Inc., in collaboration with Schreiner Pipe Organs in NY, to produce a smaller studio organ. Opus 118/3 was built as a practice simulator for the larger E. B. Old Organ. The design of the manuals, pedal board, and casework imitates that of concert organ, though the stop selection is much more limited.

    I had the lucky privilege of playing the concert organ a few times during my time as an undergrad, and it ranks among my most impactful Rice experiences.

    p.s. There’s more info about the concert organ on the Shepherd School’s website: http://www.ruf.rice.edu/~organ/

    p.p.s. Your images aren’t showing up in this post. Maybe try uploading them again?

  4. Wow, a Fisk, and Opus 1! You should tell C.B. Fisk, their website only lists two Rice organs and doesn’t list any before Opus 35.

    The organ console is in the choir loft, so the chairs are for a choir. Singing from a choir loft is a different experience, because there are almost no close reflections of the sound. You hear the people near you and the whole room sound, but nothing in-between.

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