Meeting Clara Rockmore (2001) - from the Archives

Meeting Clara Rockmore

From an email to the webmaster.
Natalia Paruz 23rd December 2001

I met her at a screening of the film 'Teremin - an Electronic Odyssey' in Westchester (in what was the home of thereminist Lucy Bigelow Rosen). It was a big event with most of the people who worked on this film or who were in it present, plus some celebrities such as actress Glen Close. It was a 'by invitation only' event and I was invited by my friend David McCormic, who worked as a theremin consultant for this film. He knew I played the saw and thought I should be introduced to the theremin. Later he built my theremin kit for me.

The screening never actually took place, due to technical difficulties, so I ended up seeing the film in a movie theater after it was released. But while we set there waiting for the technicians to attempt to fix the screening problem, we mingled and so I got to talk with Robert Moog, Steve Martin (who made the film) and others. I happened to sit by Clara Rockmore's nephew and after we conversed about his work as a music photographer, he introduced me to his aunt, Clara. Well, it turned out that Clara's sister (who passed away and was a pianist who worked in Israel) probably knew my mother (who also passed away and was a pianist who worked in Israel), and so the connection was made. I later met Clara again in other events.

We talked about how difficult it is to prove to the world that instruments like the saw and theremin can do more than just sound effects. We were both classically trained and our minds were set on getting our instruments to be accepted by the classical music world (as opposed to just sci-fi film scores...).We also talked about the similarity between the musical saw and the theremin and that's when she told me of how the sound of the theremin came to be determined.

Leon Theremin, after having discovered by accident that one can get a sound out of a radio other than the broadcasts, worked on controlling and fine tuning the quality of that sound. At that time the musical saw was very popular so naturally the sound he found reminded him of the musical saw. so, he worked to imitate the sound of the saw as exactly as possible, electronically. So, the first musical instrument which got an electronic equivalent was not the grand piano, nor a string instrument or any other, what we call today a 'legitimate' musical instrument, but rather, the musical saw!

Clara told me that she hates it when people turn the knobs on the theremin to make it sound differently than the saw sound which is the "correct" sound of the theremin. I personally don't like the sound of the theremin I have (Moog's etherwave kit) because it sounds too buzzy to me. The old RCA theremins, they are the ones with the sweet musical saw sound (but who can afford them...). Clara also said that old, large speakers produce a better theremin sound, too - a warmer sound.

Go to site: Natalia Paruz - Novelty Musical Instruments Natalia Paruz plays a variety of novelty musical instruments, including the musical saw, 36 pitched Austrian cowbells, theremin, toy piano, handbells, 4-in-hand hand bells, and also tap-dances whilst playing the piano! She also has put together a composers guide for the saw and austrian cowbells, and has a collection of audio and video files available for download.

Tagged: Clara Rockmore


Articles related to Clara Rockmore:

Concert Program (1936)
Miss Clara Rockmore Grants an Interview (1936)
New Instrument Heard (1937)
Clara Rockmore Theremin Recital (1938)
Miss Rockmore Gives Recital On Theremin (1938)
An Interview With Clara Rockmore (1967)
Clara Rockmore's Theremin (1989)
Robert Moog about the Theremin (1992)
Theremin Virtuoso Passes Unnoticed (1998)
Meeting Clara Rockmore (2001)

Clara Rockmore

Clara Rockmore

- View Full Profile

- Forum