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HPSCHD-L  July 2001

HPSCHD-L July 2001

Subject:

Re: list demographics, Hello

From:

Reply-To:

Harpsichords and Related Topics <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 2 Jul 2001 12:39:23 -0400

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On Thu, Jun 21, 2001 at 06:55:24PM -0400, Craig Baker wrote:
>I've been a piano student for 6 years,

Excellent, enough to get a clue but probably not enough to permanently
brainwash you!

>Not to start another war about kits, I know it's a heated topic, but should
>I build one?

YES.  OK I've never built one (my Zuckermann was already together when
I got it, all I've done are a few repairs, and bad attempts at voicing),
but I'm very jealous of everyone who ever has.  There's great value in
knowing about the inner workings of the equipment you use (this is equally
true of cars), for one thing you'll learn how to maintain it yourself,
plus in this case you can save a pile of money on the purchase price.

>It would be a huge purchase for me, one year's salary at
>minimum wage (550 hours work, probably longer(?) than it would take to make
>the thing), its this or a car, and I would appreciate any advice on making a
>decision. I'm not buying a professionally built instrument any time soon.

This is an easy choice:  a car lasts only a decade or two, a harpsichord lasts
a lifetime (I recently used this logic to blow a big chunk of my "house" fund
on a Dowd -- I can live under a bridge if I have to!).  Anyway you can get
a car for almost nothing if you lower your standards enough (although soon
enough, you'll care about whether it has a flat tailgate and room for an 8'
instrument inside!), it'll still get you around, but the actual quality of a
harpsichord matters a lot so any complete instrument that you can buy for less
than the cost of a kit, probably has something wrong with it (mine sure did).

There are lots of variables that decide how the instrument will sound, a Z-kit
will probably not yield anything truly amazing and if you botch it up badly
enough it will be horrible, but if you're careful it should be very nice, it
certainly ought to pass the "does it sound like a harpsichord?" test.  My
complaints with my Zuckermann are more to do with the action (which was new
18 years ago, the pins on the keyboard have too much play against the rack
though so there's a lot of clatter) but hopefully that's gotten better lately.

The sound of my particular Z. could be better (main problem is probably
the turnbuckle that had to be added to the 4' hitch pin rail to fix the
bulge that the soundboard got after 10 years) -- the front 8' sounds like
the back 8' on nicer harpsichords, the back 8' is too lackluster to ever
use at all for my tastes, and I've never liked 4' stops.  So if that helps
with your questions about optional extra choirs, personally I wouldn't
hesitate to buy something with only a single 1x8' (like an Italian, or a
virginal), but that's a matter of taste and I'm sure other people feel very
strongly about having the 2x8'+1x4' that most big harpsichords seem to have.
But anyway the front 8' on mine is bright enough to be up to solo work,
and in ensemble playing it's absolutely fine.


>More questions, regarding playing: Does all of the organ technique I've
>learned apply to the harpsichord?

I'd love to know the answer to the reverse question, I've been playing
with a borrowed Allen organ (yes I know, piece of crap, but I don't think
there's such thing as a nice tracker that fits in my garage and costs less
than a used car) and just hoping that what I already know is mostly right.
My harpsichord teacher plays organ but doesn't teach it, and he's made a few
little comments here and there.  One thing I remember him pointing out ages
ago, is that on a harpsichord you hear mostly the moving notes, the sustained
ones fade quickly away (and even if they didn't, they're overpowered by the
pluck on the new notes), and on an organ it's the opposite, those endless
tied whole notes dominate everything.  Not sure what the practical use is
for this information.  I actually find the organ helpful to my harpsichord
playing, the quick decay has apparently made me very sloppy about timing
note releases, so I'm re-learning that.

>Are all of these early music festivals I keep hearing about here
>in Boston etc. open to the public? Where might I get a chance to play/hear
>some good instruments-I live on the north shore of Boston, MA,

Oh man you missed out.  For the $10 BEMF exhibition admission fee, you could
have tried out dozens of different harpsichords (not to mention virginals,
clavichords, fortepianos, and I don't know if the Hubbard folks were letting
anyone touch their pedal harpsichord).  Well there may be other places you
can go -- while my Z. was being repaired in the early 80s, I used to go down
to Longy in Cambridge, where they'd charge me $.50/hour to use one of their
practice rooms which had a Hertz in it (yuck!  but better than nothing, well
maybe it was just that particular instrument because I've seen people here
say good things about Hertzes).  Maybe they, or other music schools, will
still do deals like that.

>will go to
>school in St Mary's, Maryland late August.

I don't know anything about that particular school, but unless they actually
specialize in early music, you can expect to be pretty much on your own.  I
majored in music at Bennington, to my surprise they did have a couple of
harpsichords, but they were old Neuperts -- utter, complete pieces of crap.
I was the only harpsichord student there at the time, and I'm glad I bothered
to build a loft in my dorm room so I could play my Zuckermann under my
bed, because it was *way* better than the school's harpsichords.  Constantly
moving it to/from the auditorium got to be a pain though, so I wish I'd had
something smaller.

Looks like I accidentally deleted your question about kit options -- I
couldn't believe it when I saw that they're selling the lids as an option,
it's ridiculous!  Well at least in the old days, Z. lids were just plywood
with veneer tape (available at Home Depot) around the edges, easily duplicated
(and for what it's worth, my Z-supplied lid *doesn't* quite match the curve
of the bentside, so I would have been better off with a home-grown one).
Their parts list shows that they do sell the hinges separately -- it might
be worth getting theirs instead of some odd thing from Home Depot, I do like
the L-shaped pins which you can remove easily if you want to play with the
lid off for some reason (last time I did that was for an outdoor concert and
I ended up cleaning bird poop off the soundboard -- so be careful!).

Re the music desk, well a lot of people are used to them so it's probably
important to the resale value, but FWIW I use a lot of Dover editions and
whatever it says on the back cover, they absolutely refuse to stay open.  So I
never use the music desk, I just lay the book between the top of nameboard
and the jackrail.  Several advantages:  the biggest one is that you can
actually hear yourself play!  When the book is standing up it blocks a lot
of the sound getting to the player.  Also, laying the book flat reduces the
clatter from my annoying warped jackrail which has never quite fit properly
(and in the old Zs, it's held in only by friction, or would be if the warped
jackrail actually fit the warped case and the felt had any spring to it).
And, you can spread out about 5 pages of music so with a little photocopying
you can often avoid page turns entirely (depending on your eyesight, it
looks funny if you start a piece leaning to your left and end it leaning to
your right).  And anyway, any book will stay open if it's flat on its back.

Re the lid prop -- well I assume they're making nice ones now, well they
better be looking at the pricing, but back when my kit was made it was just
a flimsy stick with a hitch pin in the end, which was ugly wasn't even long
enough to hold the lid open all the way.  I've been using various dowels
instead (in college it was the spreader from a Gayla "bat" kite), works fine
and the natural wood looks nice enough, and if money is tight this seems
like an easy place to cut corners.  Does St. Mary's have an architecture
department?  They tend to have nice wood shops, maybe you could get access
to some good tools and make your own versions of accessories like this.

John Wilson
Troy, NY

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