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.
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.