New York Trip, Part 1

Just back a week ago from a wonderful 5 days and nights in New York, for the AMIS Meeting – which stands for American Musical Instrument Society.  It was actually a joint meeting with the European equivalent, CIMCIM (International Committee of Musical Instrument Museums and Collections), hosted by the Musical Instrument Department of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  A big congrats and thanks to the entire staff who did such a wonderful job: Ken Moore, Jayson Dobney, Joe Peknik, Adriana, Pam, Marian and Susana.

We got very inexpensive accommodations a subway and bus-ride away at the Manhattan School of Music.  If you have to stay in an 8×8 college dorm room, it may as well be a corner room on the 12th floor!

I just went there to crash and sleep, but did manage to enjoy my brief daily and nightly views…

This is Broadway, looking due south towards downtown

And east

The conference is filled with all manner of researchers giving papers every half hour.  Here is my new friend, Hayato Sugimoto, currently studying at Edinburgh, who gave his paper on “British Harp Lutes and the Influence of Neoclassicism.”

He set me up nicely for my afternoon talk on Harp Guitar Organology.  Yes, the entire ball of wax, boiled down to 27 minutes (should have been 20, but guitar expert Matt Hill gave me a ridiculously long, embarrassing intro, and then, despite my best efforts, I of course went “off book”…though got more laughs than anticipated!).  Anyway, I acquitted myself fairly well, although I narrowly avoided getting  beat up by a small group of octogenarian nerds (I easily outran them).  (Just kidding, I love you guys!)  But seriously, it could not have gone better.  Lots of great comments on the style and substance from all manner of fellow experts (shhh…I think I’m in!).

Other papers, like the one by new harpist friend Nancy Hurrell on the harps of John Egan, not only revealed much new information, but allowed us to get up close and personal with the Museum’s own Egan dital harp (something I somehow missed back in my harp days).

No harps but this one are “numbered.”  It is engraved “No. 1” which begs the question – was it the first “serial number one,” or the “number one style”?  Either way, it is one of the very first, as it has much more metal structure on the pillar for strength than it would later.

On the inside of the curved pillar are the 7 Ditals – the equivalent of the 7 pedals of a concert harp.  Each sharpens one note in all octaves, a miniature linkage just like in the full size harps being enclosed in the pillar and neck.

In the base is the original metal leg that pulls out to raise the harp up to comfortable playing height.

There were many other Museum perks as well, including The American String Quartet (one of the finest anywhere) performing privately for us on 2 of the Museum’s Stradavarii (that’s plural, which I made up) and a prize cello.  Here, early keyboard virtuoso Dongsok Shin has just finished playing the earliest surviving Cristofori pianoforte.

But not just wonderful period instruments…outside at the fountain, Ryan Janzen gave us a demonstration of the Hydraulophone, a strange synthesizer-meets-Loch Ness monster type of creature (which we all should have technically listened to under the water, but I had forgotten my swimming trunks).

Other perks: A cocktail party one evening on the rooftop of the Met Museum building, which puts you at Central Park treetop level.  The edges of my crude stitch are 180° apart.

We closed with a formal banquet dinner on Saturday evening, but Friday’s dinner was a meticulously orchestrated wild night at the nearby Hungarian House (co-sponsored by the ever-magnanimous London dealer Tony Bingham, who I thanked by unceremoniously dumping the bulk of an entire beer on his jacket.  That’s gonna cost me on our next invoice).  Music was by the amazing band Harmonia, which plays music from Eastern Europe.

They used several unusual traditional wind instruments. Here the bassist (Brano Brinarsky) sings and plays the gajdice, a double reed with bells of cow horn.

Even cooler was the huge fujara, a 3-hole “bass overtone flute” ( intricate melody from overblowing).

Wind player Andrei Pidkivka is a stunning virtuoso who played the sopilka (a recorder-like folk flute), nai (panpipes, which brought tears to my eyes), and this amazing traditional flute that had no fingering holes.  He played complete scales (intricate and fast) simply by taking one finger on and off the end and breath pressure.

Then things got really crazy, when the Zlatne Uste Brass Band came out and played in the center of the room for traditional Balkan dancing.  The line dances were extremely simple in concept, but the steps were incredibly counter-intuitive, as our dancing pattern covered a measure and a half of music (we’d come around to “one” every other phrase), and the music was never remotely in 4/4 either!

Next time: Some highlights of the Met Museum’s instruments on display

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