Welcome to the Organ Department at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music. Led by Professor of Organ, Ken Cowan, the program offers the degrees of Bachelor of Music, Master of Music, Artist Diploma, and Doctor of Musical Arts. Additional courses are taught by Mario Aschauer, George Baker, Richard Erickson, and Robert Simpson. Our primary performing instrument on campus is the monumental Fisk-Rosales organ in the Edythe Bates Old Recital Hall, a space reserved exclusively for the organ program.
About the Organ Studio
The organ studio at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music is a limited enrollment program that prepares students for success in multifaceted careers. Ken Cowan oversees the program and teaches private lessons to all organ majors, as well as courses in Organ Literature, Liturgical Organ Playing, Accompanying, and Keyboard Harmony. Esteemed colleagues Mario Aschauer (Sam Houston State University), Richard Erickson (Christ the King Lutheran Church; Houston Bach Society) Robert Simpson (Christ Church Cathedral; Houston Chamber Choir), and teach additional courses in Harpsichord/continuo, Improvisation, Church Music Seminars (including choral conducting, program management, and service playing skills). In addition, visiting artists from around the world regularly give masterclasses and recitals.
Students perform on the renowned Fisk-Rosales organ in Edythe Bates Old Recital Hall in a weekly performance class, special studio recitals and degree recitals. This landmark instrument is reserved exclusively for lessons, practice, and performance. Additional performance opportunities give students exposure to a variety of excellent local organs in contrasting historical styles. Students are encouraged to supplement their studies with work in churches and synagogues in Houston, the 4th largest city in the US.
Church Music Skills
While all music degrees conferred by Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music major in performance, the organ performance degree curricula are designed with an integrated emphasis on the required skills of practicing church musicians. Ken Cowan’s courses in Liturgical Organ Playing (MUSI 545) and Accompanying at the Organ (MUSI 546) address performance of various styles of congregational song, short improvisatory transitional forms, and choral accompaniments. Renowned church musicians Rick Erickson and Robert Simpson each teach Church Music Seminars (MUSI 547, 548), which are designed to build strong skills in choral conducting, group vocal techniques, and program management. Choral techniques are further enhanced by participation in Rice Choral (MUSI 335), led by Tom Jaber. Finally, Improvisation at the Organ (MUSI 608), offered annually by Rick Erickson, cultivates structured skills in the improvisatory forms integral to dynamic church service playing. While not all courses are required at all degree levels, they are available to all organ majors as electives.