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The Central Coast Philharmonia

Theremin

Invented by Professor Leon Theremin, the theremin is the world's first electronic musical instrument. The instrument itself is nothing more than two rods which are sensitive to how close or far your hand is from them. One controls the volume of the instrument, the other controls the pitch. Closer to the pitch rod yields a higher note; closer to the volume rod yields a softer sound, until about a half inch away, the instrument is silent. The therminist plays with no tactile reference whatsoever; unlike a violinist who touches a fingerboard, or a woodwind player who feels the reed in their mouth and the keys in their fingers, or even a vocalist who feels the vocal chords, the thereminist feels nothing. This makes this instrument, while extremely expressive and beautiful in tone, nearly impossible to actually play. This is the factor that probably contributed most to its decline, and the one that limits the number of theremin artists in the world. In fact very few can play this highly demanding instrument. Traditionally, it is played with vibrato and roughly can sound like a human voice singing. Clara Rockmore was the one and only great virtuoso of the theremin, and interested parties should research her and her recordings.

Some technical info:
Music for theremin is written on one staff, and the normal range is that of the range of the human voice; but as the pitch field can be reset, it is not really clear how high or low the theremin can go. Music for theremin has surly not tapped this potential. Articulation on the theremin is extremely difficult and can be problematic in many respects. The theremin benefits greatly from having entrances prepared in other instruments; for example if the thereminist is to come in on a B-natural, having a B somewhere around to tune to is always appreciated. Theremin lends itself to vocal and melodic writing because of its nature, but disjunct and atonal lines are possible by the very best of players. Portamentos and scoops are characteristic of the instrument, as are a few other special effects and vibrato is an essential part of the technique. It is always helpful to remember that any move the thereminist makes during play effects the tone produced and that a frozen stillness is required to produce a successful line. Thereminists are rare, but the instrument is widely available. For more info on theremin and thereminists, check out: www.thereminworld.com and www.theremin.info.


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