Before anyone even knew who Donald Trump was, there was Donald Cowan…
1961 was the year that he came to S. H. Rider High School in Wichita Falls, Texas. He was the only choir director the school had ever had until 1993. He even wrote the schools alma mater. That, in and of itself is a legacy. But Don Cowan made it more than just a job he went to until retirement. He invested in so many lives that it is impossible to determine the impact he had.
I was part of his choir program all four years of high school. Our school was kinda odd in the fact that the A-Capella Choir contained the ‘who’s who’ of the student body. An 85 voice choir made up of jocks, cheerleaders, chess club geeks and folks like me who never really fit in any of the other groups. Four hundred plus students auditioned annually for the 85 seats.
You know, in high school, there are all the different social groups that really didn’t interact all that much. Don Cowan’s choir program brought folks from all those different groups together and made a family out of them. Mr. C had a knack for it.
Don Cowan was a celebrity. Our choir director was the MC at the pep rallies…he was the one to kick the bell that turned mum day from really quiet to really loud…lol.
The choirs he put together would kick the tails of every other choir at contest every year. We not only beat high school choirs, we beat them with college level pieces.
How did he do this? We practiced an hour a day at school as a whole. This was augmented by ‘sectionals’ at least once a week. These sectionals took place at someone’s house and was led by the student section leader. This is how he did it. By fostering leadership amongst us…a level of leadership not cultivated in most programs. And definitely not cultivated nowadays.
We recorded albums every year. Professional engineers, at an acoustically acceptable venue would record a high quality album. When do you hear of high school choirs doing this?
And as Billy Mays would say, “and that’s not all!”
Past and present members paid their own way to tour Europe every four years and Austin/San Antonio in the odd years. The European tours would sing in places like Salzburg and Vienna, many times performing encores on the front steps for the folks who couldn’t fit inside the venue! When you get called for encores in Mozart’s hometown, you are doing something right!
Many of his students went on to make music their life. A lot of Mr. C’s influence is credited by these folks.
In 2010, the concept of a reunion choir was cultivated and created. Past members of Mr. C’s choirs committed to learning music over the course of a year to come together and perform at Bass Performance Hall in Dallas. The choir achieved their goal of making it a performance that was up to Mr. C’s high standards.
We always finished every concert with an arrangement of Fairest Lord Jesus called Beautiful Savior. We sang it every Friday before leaving choir class. That was ‘our song’.
This is the ’88-’89 S.H. Rider A-capella Choir singing Beautiful Savior.
Mr. C said goodbye to this world on May 24th, 2015 after a battle with cancer. I can just imagine him directing the angels in Beautiful Savior and urging them kindly to get it right…lol.
Y’all stay safe, and keep a round in the chamber. And Mr. C? We’ll see ya later…