This page has my music-related stuff. This is strictly a hobby, I have absolutely no musical talent whatsoever, but my parents dumped me in piano lessons (after years of me breaking the strings on my dad's clavichord) when I was six to give it a shot anyway. Which I think is what every parent should do, because by the time kids are old enough to make their own decisions about whether to learn to play an instrument, they're already too old to be able to really learn it like a language and they'll be at a real disadvantage if they try to start from scratch then. So better to start early and then quit or change instruments later. Anyway my parents didn't get the clue that it was a waste of time with me, and I was such a wussy that I just went with the flow, so I ended up getting decades of lessons in piano, harpsichord, and a bit of violin and even electric guitar too, as well as many classes in recorder/crumhorn/viol/etc., even though they were all clearly leading nowhere (and all but harpsichord and recorder fell by the wayside anyway).

What, still reading? You need to get out more! Anyway I ended up getting a B.A. in Music, during a rebellious phase where I thought it would be fun to see what it felt like to be a "normal" (by an engineering student's standards at least) liberal arts student, instead of the computer nerd that I had tried for years to resist becoming. I had unofficially declared 1988 to be "Johnny does whatever the !*@#^% he wants" year, I bought (and then extensively modified) my first car and flunked out of engineering school and traipsed around Europe for a month with my friends, and also got an electric guitar and went skiing way too much, and got a hang glider, so applying to a new college w/o even telling my parents was just icing on the cake. Well I was right, it was a whole lot of fun and definitely a learning experience, and I feel like the slight spin it put on life since then has been a great improvement. But it was just a fantasy, I'm a computer guy at heart, much as I tried to fight it by going to an artsy high school and messing with photography and ham radio and bicycles as hobbies until I couldn't resist computers any more.


harpsichord in squalid living room

The harpsichord is the only instrument I've ever tried to play seriously, and it's been pretty much a disaster, but I still enjoy it. It's about the most inconvenient instrument possible -- a real pain to move around, but it's not like a piano or organ where the hall you're going to play in will already have one. So you'll have to haul yours in, and it'll definitely need a complete tuning when you get there, multiple times if it spent much time outside on the way there. And conductors seem to think they can have someone feed you a different A at showtime and have you re-tune all 183 strings in the time it takes a string player to tune four of them, sheesh.

Anyway my older/rattier harpsichord is a Zuckermann 5-octave concert [Flemish style] harpsichord, originally sold as a kit in the early 1970s. My family got it in 1980 for $500 from someone who had botched up the kit. We hauled it down to Stonington and had Zuckermann fix the mistakes (biggest one was, the wrestplank was only glued down, not bolted, and it was getting ready to lift up and fly out of the case), and then a couple of years later had Peter Sykes (then the Boston area rep for Zuckermann) replace the action with the improved jacks and the nicer non-bushed French style keyboard. Around that time, this model was inexplicably discontinued, and current Zuckermann models all have a narrower 4.5-octave range for some reason. On the minus side, my version is too old to have the transposing keyboard, and the stop levers are flimsy and hard to control. Luckily I consider changing stops on the fly to be a cheesy gimmick anyway, and I normally tune in mean tone so the transposing keyboard would be useless.

In July 2001, I bought an absolutely wonderful two-manual 4.5-octave Franco-Flemish style harpsichord made by William Dowd in 1979, freshly requilled by Jim Nicolson. Dowd is retired now so I'm really glad to be getting one of his instruments, it sure isn't cheap but I expect it to last me for life so what the heck. It sounds and feels about 10 times better than the Zuckermann, I'm really excited about it, anyway more later...

In winter 2003, I began sporadically working on building a home-made virginal, which is a small rectangular harpsichord. That (currently stalled) project has its own page here.

I originally started lessons on the piano just like everyone else does, in 1972. I can't remember many of my teachers' names because it was so long ago, the first was Roz Weihroch (spelling?) at Cambridge Friends School, and the last was George Litterst at N.E.C., but there were a bunch in between. In June 1981 I officially switched to harpsichord with Jim Nicolson at Longy, and later Willie Finckel at Bennington, and more recently (Jan 2001) I re-started lessons with Jim again. Unfortunately my ex-wife was not a big fan of my Zuckermann and thought it wasn't worth the space to set it up (which should have been a warning sign!), so it sat in storage for the 8.5+ years I was with her, but it took surprisingly little work to get it back in playing shape in summer 2000.


organ picture

OK this is a phase I've been going through lately. After my ex-wife dumped me in the summer of 2000, I decided to do some more of the "Johnny does whatever he wants" stuff. So I found an honest-to-god pipe organ advertised on eBay and got it into my head that that would be a fun thing to install in the garage. Fortunately I was outbid at the last minute, it would have been a fun project but the 1200-mile trip each way to pick it up would have been hell, especially traveling alone with a snippy cockatiel on my shoulder the whole time. But meanwhile, a friend of mine who used to be a church organist liked the idea, and bought an Allen TC-1 analog electronic organ off of eBay, which he wouldn't have space for until he built his new house. So meanwhile I got to store it. At the time I'd only ever played a real pipe organ once (the mean tone organ at Wellesley College) and I have yet to sign up for real organ lessons (already spread too thin musically and anyway I'm afraid that learning real organ technique would mess up what little harpsichord technique I have) so I'm even more clueless here than with the harpsichord. In particular it's obvious that playing the pedals takes some real skill so I'm horrible at that, but anyway it's been a fun project seeing what I could figure out.

To explain about the pedals: organ pieces typically have a third staff of music (normally simple basso continuo type stuff), which you play using your feet on an oversized 2.5-octave keyboard on the floor, at the same time that you're playing a couple of handfuls of notes up top. It's a real mind-bender if your brain has long been conditioned to deal the notes out to just ten fingers. I often find that I've accidentally switched the bass and tenor voices or some such thing, since all these years my brain has evidently been sorting "treble" vs. "other" instead of really splitting things out all the way. Also, the organ's unlimited sustain has really put me in touch with how sloppy I am -- on a harpsichord, notes decay rapidly after the initial pluck so you can cheat on long notes and let go early if you need that finger for something else. But that doesn't work on an organ, where you can clearly hear the entire length of each note. Plus the music often depends on being able to set up some notes of a chord and then have a couple of other voices do their thing for a long while before wandering home to complete the chord that's there waiting for them. Excellent effect if you do it right, but...

Problems I wouldn't have thought of: if the pedal part is complicated enough that both feet have to be moving at once, and your hands are busy with whatever mess is flying on top of the bass line, then you've got all four limbs suspended in front of you while you're perched on a hard wooden bench with no back. Now what the heck is holding you up, to stop you from diving into the console?! The best I can figure is that you have to lean way back to maintain your balance until one extremity or another gets a break and you can put a little weight on it.

Anyway the Allen isn't as cool as a real pipe organ but at least it tries, and the console is approximately a standard A.G.O. layout so everything is where it belongs. And it fits easily under a 9' ceiling. Then it went down to MD (my friend finished his house, now he has a really nice Rodgers digital organ) so I've been cooking something up (a cheesy homemade MIDI A.G.O. console controlling a synthesizer doing a poor imitation of an organ) to tide me over until I stumble upon a real pipe organ (I found a a church in Fall River, MA that wanted $5,000 for theirs a few years ago but the deinstall/reinstall project would have been too big a project to do alone).


My latest thing is that I started taking bagpipe classes with the Quaboag Highlanders, starting in April 2006. Now I'm learning how to make my own.

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