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Handmade harpsichord fulfills lifelong dream

Handmade harpsichord fulfills lifelong dream

If it were possible for Johann Sebastian Bach to attend the United Methodist Church’s “An Autumn Bac
Handmade harpsichord fulfills lifelong dream
The harpsichord built by Rand Reeves was decorated with original artwork by Betsy Masters Cannon.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — If it were possible for Johann Sebastian Bach to attend the United Methodist Church’s “An Autumn Bachanalia” on Friday night, he would probably smile. The Frobenius Tracker organ and the harpsichord that Rand Reeves just finished building are two types of instruments he would have recognized.

“Mine is based on a 1769 French, two manual harpsichord. Bach’s would have been German but it was similar,” Reeves said.

What’s most important is that what audiences will hear is similar to the sound Bach heard in his day. The concert will feature several of his and his sons’ compositions. Findlay Cockrell and John Norton will perform on the harpsichord. Al Fedak, Erich Borden and Brenda Vredenburg will perform on the organ. Soprano Pamela Easler, a 14-voice church chorus, and Reeves himself, a tenor, will sing.

Building the harpsichord was not only time consuming— it took four years — but also expensive.

“The kit cost almost $8,000,” he said. “I began saving for it 15 years ago. It’s something I always wanted to do.”

Fortunately, Reeves has been a piano technician for 42 years. So he knew how to deal with the numerous small pieces involved and how to work with a scalpel to file down plastic plectrums (originally crow quills) that pluck the strings to make the sound.

An Autumn Bachanalia

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 21

WHERE: United Methodist Church, Fifth Avenue and Henning Road, Saratoga Springs

HOW MUCH: Free will offering

MORE INFO: 885-5472; saratogaspringsumc.org

“It’s an art creating the voice of the instrument,” he said. “It’s been a labor of love.”

In keeping with tradition, he asked Betsy Masters Cannon to paint the inside of the harpsichord with a nature scene.

“It was extremely challenging,” Cannon said. “The lid had to be viewable in three different modes depending on how it was opened and they had to work well together.”

Working in acrylic paints, she chose the cloisonne method so that the colors could flow “super flat” for stylized cardinal flowers, cattails and a dragonfly. People have told her the work has a Japanese or even Latino feel, she said. Reeves said he was thrilled with the result.

While the Frobenius organ took the Danish firm of Frobenius & Son 10,000 hours, or six months, to build in 1996, the tracker type of organ hasn’t changed much since Bach’s day, said Al Fedak, the organist at Albany’s Westminster Presbyterian Church.

“This is a lovely little organ with wonderful ensemble and comfortable to play,” he said. “I can play on it for hours without fatigue. But it doesn’t have the gravitas and the textures are different on the German organ.”

The Frobenius, which is considered medium size, was designed specifically for this church.

“The craftsmanship is impeccable. It’s a beautiful work of art,” Fedak said.

The organ cost $300,000 and had to be reassembled by two Danish workmen after it was shipped to this country. The 19-foot by 12-foot instrument has a kind of wing-like design made of Brazilian mahogany that was added to its upper frame — the first time Frobenius had put such a design on an organ. The organ is also the 999th instrument the company had built and is still one of only four in this country. The other three are in Cambridge, Mass., Lake Wales, Fla.; and San Francisco. Later in 1996, two voicers came and spent nine weeks to make sure the sound from each of the 1,500 pipes suited the church’s acoustics.

Soon after the installation, the church began its Frobenius Organ Series, Reeves said. This concert opens this year’s series.

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