The 'Grand Dame' of the Theremin
Don't forget that you are dealing with air! Think of your fingers as delicate butterfly wings, and you will get much further than if you use strength"- Clara Rockmore
The greatest exponent of the theremin, Clara Rockmore was more than just a performer. It was her comments and suggestions that encouraged Leon Theremin to further perfect his instrument.
Clara Rockmore was born Clara Reisenberg in Vilnius, Lithuania, on the 9th March 1911. She quickly showed an aptitude for music, and studied the violin with the distinguished Leopold Auer. At the age of only five, she was admitted to the prestigious Imperial Conservatory of Saint Petersburg, as their youngest ever student. She would often recall how she was so tiny, she stood on the table to play at her audition. Unfortunately, due to childhood malnutrition, and an injury sustained through overpracticing, Clara was unable to continue actively concertising on the violin.
It was when Clara and her sister Nadia Reisenberg took residence in New York that they witnessed a lecture-demonstration by Leon Theremin of his instrument. Clara and Nadia were both transfixed, and they both became regular visitors at Theremin's Studios. Clara showed a greater aptitude for the theremin than any other of Theremin's students. In the theremin, Clara saw an opportunity to play and concertise once more. Her years of classical training and musicianship put her in the best possible position to bring the instrument to a wider audience, and her unwavering professionalism meant she dedicated two years of her life to practice before she felt prepared for her first professional performance.
One of Rockmore's acheivements was to devise a system of 'Ariel Fingering', essentially a mixture of hand and finger positions devised in order to take the 'guesswork' out of playing the instrument, and aid speed of playing and navigation. This allowed her to perform pieces of a far greater difficulty level than other thereminists, and enabled the execution of fast passages, and large leaps without the glissando of the less skilled player.
Clara Rockmore contributed greatly to the development of the Theremin as a performing intrument in the early years. As the foremost performer, and consumate musician, she was able to understand more fully than anyone else at the time what limitations the instrument possessed, and how it may be possible to modify the design for the better. Having such a close relationship with Professor Theremin enabled her to suggest improvements to the range, stability, and attack of the volume antenna. Theremin built Clara her own, customised intrument that embodied her suggestions and improvements, and also worked very closely on the 'tone' of the instrument to ensure the theremin was the best that could be built.
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