Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Visit with Marlowe Sigal

A few weeks ago I made a post about a lush 300-page catalog containing photographs of and information about the hundreds of instruments in Marlowe Sigal's personal collection. This past weekend my father, Michael, and I went to Mr. Sigal's house and were able to see (and even try some of) the instruments in his collection.

The house itself was built around a tracker organ. The console sits in front of a grand staircase, and the largest pipes are set into the wooden paneling. Some sets of smaller pipes peep out into rooms on the second floor. The instruments are everywhere: the basement and the first floor are filled with keyboard instruments, and the upstairs houses mainly woodwinds. The relatively few stringed instruments in his collection hang on walls and sit on top of covered keyboard instruments.

I had the great fortune to try a 4-key flute made in 1800 by Heinrich Grenser. Here is a modern copy of an instrument that looks like the sort of instrument I tried.

The sound was beautiful and extremely flexible. I could get dozens of tone colors from the instrument, even though it probably hadn't been played for a very long time (I could tell because the corks that covered some of the keys were dried out). I have played modern copies of 18th-century flutes, but this was the first time I had ever tried an actual 18th-century flute. The feeling was kind of unreal. Think of the lips and fingers that had touched that instrument! Think of the breath that had gone through it! Playing it felt like walking through a door to a secret musical world.

The whole experience of visiting was literally one of walking into secret and rare musical worlds.

Mr. Sigal is a very kind man, and he is a person truly dedicated to understanding and preserving treasures from the musical past. Like our mutual friend (and my elementary school music teacher who grew up in the same town that houses this collection) Patricia Frederick, he is extremely generous with his time and his musical treasures.

All the instruments in the collection are exactly as they appear in the photographs in his book.

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