From its earliest conception, the grand concert organ for The Shepherd School of Music at Rice University was designed to be a singular instrument with a unique identity and voice, capable of playing four centuries of organ literature in a convincing way.
After extensive study, organ builder Manuel Rosales of Rosales Organ Builders, Inc. of Los Angeles and Clyde Holloway determined that an organ with the tonal characteristics valued in France during the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries would offer the greatest flexibility in playing the largest segment of the literature.
This kind of organ would also adapt to the music of many countries from earlier centuries and from centuries to come. They decided that a relatively large instrument was a necessity, not for reasons of dynamic scope, but to be able to provide all of the essential voices required by a large portion of the organ repertoire.
The generous philanthropy of the late Mrs. Edythe Bates Old made it possible to finish the interior of the hall which now bears her name and to begin construction of the organ that now elegantly fills that space. Mrs. Old was a gifted singer, pianist, choral conductor, watercolorist, and teacher from Highlands, Texas, who for many years taught music, art, and English in the public schools of Houston, as well as English and Greek literature at the University of Houston.
The organ contains 75 stops that control 4,493 pipes constructed from polished tin (façade pipes), hammered tin, scraped tin, spotted metal, hammered lead, poplar, pine, basswood, and cherry.
There are several distinctive tonal characteristics of this organ that listeners will easily recognize: a large number of distinctive flue pipes that give the organ its smooth foundation tone; an effective complement of mutation stops (indicated in the specification by pipe lengths containing fractions) that give color and pungency to the flue pipes with which they are almost always combined; and fiery reeds that can dominate the entire ensemble of pipes to give it weight and power.
The distinguished visual and tonal aspects of the Edythe Bates Old Grand Organ compel us to celebrate the inauguration of a new era of performance, study, and enjoyment of the King of Instruments as we offer to Houston and the nation a musical landmark of unparalleled significance.