From the Chapel Organ to an Art Mystery

This morning I was looking around in an old Shepherd School file and I found two unexpected things, one of them interesting and the other both interesting and mysterious.

The just plain interesting thing was a folder of letters, drawing and photos about the installation of the chapel organ in 1958. I’d seen a folder about the organ before, but it was in President Houston’s papers. I’d never had any reason to suspect that there was another so this was a nice surprise. Most of the material was correspondence between the organ maker, C.B. Fisk, and Arthur Hall. Hall came to Rice in 1953 after serving several years at Christ Church Cathedral as their organist and director of music. He was Rice’s first real music teacher and quickly became head of the Department of Music, a job he held until 1973. He was also a prolific composer. What caught my eye here was a letter from Charles Fisk to a Houston construction firm, in which he succinctly explained how the new organ would be installed:

It actually sounds like a simpler process than the renovation of the organ that took place this summer. I was quite tickled by the insistence on the need for quiet, given that this recent work was done while the chapel itself was undergoing its own noisy remodel. I’m sure the Linbeck folks piped down, though, (get it?? piped down? Oh, I crack myself up.) at the appropriate time.

And here’s a photograph taken right after the original project was completed. (If you zoom in and look closely you can just see the back of the head of a young lady seated at the keyboard.)

Now to the mystery. In the same folder I found this undated, unlabeled image. It was not attached to any document and there isn’t any document in the folder that relates to it.

What could this possibly be? At first it made no sense at all and I wondered if it even belonged in this box.  When I scanned it, though, I realized that the figures are musicians. But that’s all I’ve got. Anyone know what we’re looking at here?

Bonus: It’s pretty cool inside an organ. The instrument uses the whole room.

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19 Responses to From the Chapel Organ to an Art Mystery

  1. lilypons says:

    There are some pretty interesting looking wheeled items to the left of the instrumentalists statue. Hard to tell what they are. Maybe knowing will help.

    • Deborah Gronke Bennett says:

      They look like tricycles and a bicycle to me. There is another object that I could believe is a stroller. All on a wooden deck. The color of the light and of the grass looks like the picture was taken in the summer.

  2. lilypons says:

    Also, it seems to be a string quartet. Quite wonderful!

  3. The sculpture is a string quartet. Now if I could remember the sculpture prof who was there when I was there…

    I am pretty sure he did the special bricks in Bio, Geo, and Spac. Sci.

    Wow, correspondence about Fisk Opus 1. I need to send this to my organist friends. This is a very special organ.

  4. Sandy Havens says:

    Definitely David Parsons. I think the piece shown is the study for a much larger work that sat in front of Hamman Hall for a while. And, yes, to Walter Underwood, Parsons did produce the special bricks for the bio and geo buildings. He also did huge mobile sculptures for the exterior stairwells of both buildings. They were seriously damaged by some hurricane and had to be taken down.

    • I remember him talking about the difficulty of representing some of the concepts for those buildings in bricks. I really like the brick with the falling apple, representing gravity.

      Sandy, I was in your theater class. I’m blanking on what I worked on, though I can see the pages with the notes around them. Maybe Dark of the Moon? I’d done a scene design for that in high school.

      I remember the production of The Visit, partly because I’d read Der Besuch der Alten Dame in 2nd year German the year before. Creepy play.

  5. Grungy says:

    David Parsons special space, eventually, was a shed under the Track Stadium.
    See if this building in the photo maps to that.
    Otherwise I would guess that it was either the Media Center or it’s neighbor, the two “temporary” buildings built to be the Rice Museum.

    • Sandy Havens says:

      Walter, thanks for the reminder. I knew I was familiar with your name. We never presented Dark of the Moon so it must have been something else. The Visit certainly is a creepy play. In our production I violated every copyright law imaginable by combining elements of the original Swiss version with the American version that was a hit on B’way.

  6. Sandy Havens says:

    Grungy, I think the photo was taken in Parsons’ back yard and shows part of his porch and attached studio. It does not look like anything I remember from his space under the track stadium or the Media Center.

  7. Barney L. McCoy says:

    When I was at Rice (63-67), I had multiple part-time jobs. My junior and senior years, one of them was at the RMC. During the weekdays at lunchtime and for a full afternoon shift on Sundays, I filled in for Roland Pomerat, who wore many hats. He was carriloneur, organist and assistant to the Director of the RMC,Mr. Red. One of his many jobs was to facillitate any function that was to take place in the RMC (this was the job that I temporarily filled for him). The priceless bonus of the job was in occasionally getting to listen to Mr. Pomerat play or practice on the carrilon or on the organ. He was truly a master at both. As a boss, he was also a nitpicker who had his way of doing everything. But he also had a great sense of humor hidden beneath a dry, caustic wit. After I got over the fear of making some mistake that might result in gaining Mr. Pomerat’s attention, I came to truly enjoy being around him. Barney L. McCoy, Hanszen 67

  8. Bill Peebles, Hanszen '70 says:

    The organist sits facing away from the chapel and I recall there is a mirror so he/she could see what is going on. Beau Jon Sackett played for my wedding on June 22, 1968 and did a wonderful job.

  9. Owlcop says:

    When I was a kid I was friends with Parsons’ son Todd. They lived in an old two storey wood frame on Newcastle in Bellaire. The very large yard was like a jungle, and you never knew what kind of interesting sculpture would be around the next shrub. It was unlike any other Bellaire yard in the 1960’s.

  10. You guys are back in my sandbox! David Parsons’s String Quartet moved around campus in various versions. I’m pretty sure that he wanted to raise funds to have a large one cast in bronze, but that never happened. A large black styrofoam (?) one (about six feet in diameter) was in the old Music Library on the third floor of Fondren. (I think we called it the second floor back in those days, but I digress) A smaller styrofoam one about three and a half feet in diameter similar to the one pictured was under the steps of the administrative office wing of Alice Pratt Brown Hall. Parsons wanted it out in the open, but it was lightweight and fragile enough that we thought it needed to be under lock and key. That one went away about four years ago and I don’t know what happened to it.

    My wedding was in the Chapel back in ’88. We put an orchestra in the organ loft and hoisted a kettledrum over the rail. That’s a NARROW door up there.

    Fun trivia question: how many Fisk pipe organs are at Rice?

  11. marmer01 says:

    Yes, the mirror for the organist is very, very common in churches where the organ is installed in the choir loft, particularly if it is a tracker action organ with a direct physical connection between keys and pipes (as distinct from electronic action where there is a cable bundle between the console and the pipes, which allows more flexibility in locating the console.)

  12. Ron Cytron says:

    When I was at Rice (1976-1980), the Shepherd School was in the basement of Sewall Hall. I was interested in studying organ, but when Clyde Holloway joined in 1977, he would only teach graduate students. Fortunately, the organist at Temple Emanu El across the street (Ann Frohbieter) was one of Prof. Holloway’s students. As she studied organ pedagogy with Prof. Holloway, I was her guinea pig student. The RMC was fairly accommodating about undergraduates practicing on the RMC organ until the organ department started. I don’t recall her name, but there was a somewhat stern woman in charge of scheduling the room and instrument, and she would reluctantly find time for me and others to practice in 1976 and 1977. The organ had a tracker-simulated touch, and fit nicely and sounded well with the chapel’s acoustics.

    After that, I did find instruments around Houston where students could practice, Temple Emanu El’s being one of them.

  13. Dennis Clark says:

    Most curious. I was a student at Rice from 1971-1976. Before the Shepherd School of Music. I played the organ in the chapel many times, studying with Klaus Kratzenstein and his wife Marilou. In fact I rather think the woman in the photo may be Marilou.

    It was at that time a remarkable, open environment for any student to partake of the music at Rice then, limited as it indeed was. The Chamber Orchestra did quite well. There was no problem practicing the organ then. The Music Library was open to all, and had weekly recorded concerts on Fridays, and was a great resource for all students.

    That is till the Shepherd School of Music came into being. Suddenly one had to be a music major to do just about anything. The Music Library was suddently closed to all but music majors. I realize that no one much will remember the awful transition, how Klaus was told he would continue to have a position in the new school, but then was let go at the last moment, without warning, at the end of the Spring, 1975, semester. That next semester, the Fall of 1975, was quite ugly for many of those of us who had enjoyed the musical life at Rice before the Shepherd School opened.

    As the atmosphere worsened, people were threatened by administration officials – including myself – when one of the new music majors imagined that she had heard some of us ‘planning’ to disrupt some concert Sam Jones was conducting with the Houston Symphony to raise money and went to Sam Carrington to ‘report’ me. I had done no such thing. I was nevertheless hauled into his office, and told how sensitive matters were, that the School had already blown its full endowment, which was only one million dollars, and that they were desperate to raise money. So they didn’t want me or anyone else ‘disrupting’ this concert. I pointed out in very clear terms to him, I never had any intention to, nor even to attend. Regardless of having been ‘reported’ by some other student whom I didn’t even know, had never met, some essentially anonymous accuser.

    Many of my professors knew how disgracefully I had been treated, and counseled me to raise such treatment as a formal issue. But I decided against it, since I was about to graduate, and it was quite clear after the way Klaus had been treated there was little hope of any kind of fair treatment.

    So a large stain is on my otherwise fond memory of Rice.

    The Shepherd School of Music may be a thriving and excellent organization now, but it had a shameful beginning.

    And now 40 years later, I am letting people know. Ancient history as it is.

    David Parsons, on the other hand, was a great soul and a lovely and talented man.

  14. Pingback: Two Questions About Hamman Hall | Rice History Corner

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