December 6th, 2014


Rob Kapilow: What Makes it Great

Last night we went to another enjoyable and enlightening Rob Kapilow: What Makes it Great performance at Jordan Hall. This one was Britten's Ceremony of Carols.

They follow the same pattern. In the first half he lectures about the piece with demonstrations on the keyboard and by the performers. He'll play a passage in a boring fashion and then show what the composer did to make it more interesting - e.g. major/minor keys, surprising notes, rhythm changes, etc.

Then after the intermission the piece gets performed in whole. And then he and several of the performers sit on the stage to answer questions from the audience. The last question was to the choir director about auditioning and how he chooses who is in the chorus. He said if the person really wants to be in the group, can sing, and will commit to doing the practicing, all the rehearsals and performances they are in. I like that attitude and it reminds me of the approach that the late Marleen Montgomery who was the director of The Quadrivium - an early music group that no longer exists - that I was a member of for a bunch of years. She really brought the best out of people. Some of the people have gone on to have serious careers.

The Ceremony of Carols is based upon some late medieval carols. My absolutely favorite one is There is no Rose. And it brings back another memory. When I was in 8th grade I had a role (I don't remember the role - it was a while ago...) in the Annual Christmas Pageant. What I do remember is the High School (girls only at the time) Chorus used the Britten work for the music and I can still remember the sound of There is no Rose.

Here is Chanticleer singing the early version:

And here is the Britten version:

My harpsichord

In ~1970 I built a harpsichord from a Zuckermann Kit (no, not that Zuckerman).

It was fun to build. I never quite finished the outer case but it was quite playable. It sat on a table - I didn't make a stand. I had lots of trouble with the plectra. They were leather and required lots of trimming and treatment with some hardening substance to make them work. At some point I replaced them with plastic ones which were much easier to deal with.

For a while next to the harpsichord there was a Model 37 Teletype connected via a dedicated telephone line to our switchboard in the Tech Square office so that I could log in into Multics and do work, send email, etc. Once I was at a party and I was chatting to someone and told him about these two devices and he said: I know of someone else who has the same things. A bit more discussion and we determined the someone else was me.

In ~2001, after not playing it for about 10 years I gave it away. I have no idea about what happened to it. By then the Model 37 teletype had been replaced several times by more modern devices. (I notice in this picture below the Scrabble box is a computer keyboard.)