Gary Blaise Early Keyboard Instruments
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  The history of the clavichord is the history of keyboard pedagogy itself. The very concept of 'practice' was likely non-existent before the clavichord because, as we shall see, such activities prohibitively inconvenient upon the instrument of the earliest keyboardists, the organ. Even when other keyboards became available such as the harpsichord, piano, and the electric keyboards, the clavichord's unique qualities insured its ongoing role as the perfect practice instrument. Forgotten for a while, the instrument has once again become recognized for its tutorial efficiency, rigid practicality, and the fascinating light it casts upon the early keyboard literature.

In The Beginning . . .

Not much is known of the organist・s plight in the earliest centuries after Constantinople's tributary gift of a hydraulis, an early type of organ, to Pepin the Short in 757 AD. We can imagine that Pepin's instrument may have been used at court to elevate his famed stature. Perhaps Pepin was the organist ("Ignore that man behind the curtain"). Eventually, the hydraulis seems to have worked its way inside the church where it began its long transformation into the organ with which we are familiar today. And beast it may have been if Wulstan's 10th century account of the organ at Winchester is any indication. In addition to its possible use as a tool of Pepin-like pomp, it may also have been used as a signaling device, like bells, to summons or proclaim. Though we are now about as removed from the early organ scene as Dolly the clone sheep was from Tyrannosaurus Rex, it is nonetheless interesting, if only for amusement, to speculate briefly as to how organists of antiquity prepared for everything from Sunday services to public spectacles involving the instrument.

One is tempted to think that such events could have been led by gifted Benedictines who were naturally able to interact with the instrument in licks of spontaneous expression without any practice at all. At one time this sort of behavior, whether musical, magical, or mystical, was admired; or even venerated as in the case of St. Francis and St. Theresa. While today we call such gifts .talent・, and the tightly controlled expression of it .performance practice・, there have been a few notable escapees from the system, providing us with modern examples of spontaneous interaction between artists and their medium such as Miles Davis + horn or Vincent Van Gogh + paint. If, on the other hand, these early organs were operated by a more garden variety sort of organist there may have been an even greater need for practice than today. The early organ and its precarious wind system certainly existed much closer to the edge of what was technologically possible, let alone practical, compared to instruments of later centuries. Although their 'repertoire' may have been simpler, and their 'performance practice' more useful for the operation of locomotive levers than for the negotiation of four-voiced fugues, you can be sure that the efforts of players and pumpers alike required plenty of sympatico, let alone practice, but upon what? Certainly not the instrument itself. Such instruments were no doubt horrifyingly expensive to maintain and, in any case, far too precious to be worn out for the sake of practice. They were also loud. Without the possibility of individual stop selection, it seems somewhat anticlimactic to rehearse on an instrument which could be heard all over town. Interestingly, the fact that stone churches were inconveniently cold and dark during the hours in which practice might conveniently take place does not seem to have posed a problem as the playing of medieval organs seems very much to have been an aerobic activity for players and pumpers alike, thereby removing the need for heat. Besides, there was no music to read, removing the need for good lighting.

 
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