Top of the Morning, March 20, 2017
By HEATHER COIT
When I was given three assignments last week relating to so-called "strange musical instruments," I was immediately intrigued. I also knew that creating a video to accompany Melissa Merli's story was a must.
I was introduced to five instruments in all and treated to hearing their sounds from some of the best in our area.
University of Illinois Marching Band's Barry Houser played an over-the-shoulder, rich-in-history horn, which was commonly used in the Civil War era.
Scott Schwartz of Sousa Archives and Center for American Music shared his expertise on two very complex-looking instruments: the Sal-Mar and its predecessor, the Harmonic Tone Generator. The massive pieces were almost intimidating, but Schwartz handled both with ease.
When Barry Morse brought his Theremin to The News-Gazette studio, he showed that its simple design is deceiving. It was hard to believe he was controlling sound with a wave of his hands. Its distinct, cosmic sound can be heard in movies I've seen, like "The Machinist" and "Ed Wood." No, it was not used in the Beach Boys music. Yes, the Theremin is difficult to play.
Both Merli and I tried our hand at playing it. Let's just say I have a lot of respect for those, like Morse, who know what they're doing.
The final instrument stood out because it was built by Urbana's Michael Meadows. Meadows credited ancient Greece for giving him the idea to build "Birdwirks," which he described as a sound sculpture. Close your eyes and you would swear you're surrounded by song birds. It was truly an impressive feat by this artist.
To appreciate these instruments in action, check out my video at news-gazette.com.