She plucks music out of the air
by Annie Bridge
January 27, 2004
Juliet Wolfe Shaw, East Norwalk Concert Pianist,
Becomes One of Nation's Few Accomplished
FORSEES ERA OF ELECTRONIC MUSIC
She Cites Accomplishments of Stokowski as Proof
of Future Value of Science's Contributions
to World of Music.
It is a common indulgence, when party groups gather round, to demonstrate one's skill with tricks of legerdemain--making the handkerchief disappear, plucking the rabbit out of a hat, and so on. But Juliet Wolfe Shaw of Sasqua Hills, East Norwalk, has a better exploit in magic. She can pluck music out of thin air! She does it with the aid of an unusual musical gadget, the theremin, which resembles a radio cabinet with two protruding metal rods.
Such an introduction might tend to level a charge of quackery at an artist, but Miss Shaw escapes such taint for she is recognized as a brilliant pianist who has appeared on the continent and American concert stage frequently. More that , Juliet Shaw is one of the few accomplished players of the theremin in the country.
The thereminist stands in front of the instrument waving her hands gracefully in the air, touching nothing. As her right hand approaches the upright antenna, the musical notes grow higher. As her left hand nears the loop-shaped rod at the side of the cabinet, the notes grow softer.
Glowing, muted, throbbing tones which faintly suggest the violin or 'cello, but with the feathery compelling quality identified only with the theremin, are the result.
Audiences Try the Trick
After each concert, Juliet Shaw, facing a deluge of questions, invites members of the audience to take a turn at playing.
Recently a clubwoman expressed her anxiety to try the instrument.
"But I have such a cold", she told the surprised Miss Shaw, "I just couldn't breathe into the machine."
All audiences attempt to discover that manner in which Miss Shaw brings forth tunes from the musical box. At a Yale University program last season, college students essayed one guess--Miss Shaw picked up radio programs with her deft fingers and transmitted them through the theremin.
Clubwomen, on hearing her, have expressed the belief that Miss Shaw possessed a rare talent and could hum tunes into the machine. Miss Shaw has even been credited with having some hypnotic powers over the machine.
As an unsuspecting victim steps forward warily on the invitation of Miss Shaw to play the instrument, hideous howls similar to the blasts of static from a radio emanate from the box to frighten the would-be artist.
The secret is that the music from the theremin is caused by the disturbance which the performer's hands crate in an electromagnetic field about the box. As one steps up th the theremin, he walks into this area and it is the taming of these sounds which produces the music.
Probably due to the scarcity of these instrument, to the caution of musicians to accept a new instrument, of most important to the fact that to date there have been no Paderewskis or Kreislers in the field of electronic music, few persons are familiar with the theremin and its tremendous possibilities.
Artistically it is the first new instrument to be invented for years, and the only instrument without any percussive quality to be accepted. It is a pioneer instrument in the field of electronic music and, dispelling the suggestion of a passing fad for the theremin, is said by Albert Einstein, the scientist to be as important musically as the first harp.
Science Produces music
The instrument itself was invented by a scientist, Leon Theremin, who in 1924 was on the staff of the Physico-Technical Institute at Leningrad. He went about Europe waving his hands in front of a rod which was attached to a box that resembled a radio cabinet. Sounds came forth, and he named the instrument after himself, Theremin.
The Professor brought the instrument to the United States and sold the patent rights to an American corporation. One thousand of the instruments were sold, including one to Charlie Chaplin and two to Douglas Fairbands, who, appreciating its mysticism, presented one to am Indian prince friend.
Here in musical phrasing is a description of the theremin:
The theremin has neither keys, nor strings, nor sounding pedals, nor any other parts that can recall a known instrument. The infinite variety of sounds is produced through oscillations of inaudible frequency between two electric fields of high frequency. When the hands, or any foreign body, enter the magnetic fields, or approach the antennae, the inaudible waves become audible through the coupling of the two oscillations, crudely speaking. Now, the regulation of all imaginable sounds, their graduations, and intensity is directed by the training of the hands and body to move in various positions in these sensitive fields.
Heard It 5 Years ago
It was five years ago when Miss Shaw became interested in the theremin and since has studied under the inventor, now residing in New York city.
It was while visiting with relatives in Detroit, members of the Busch family of the brewery fortune that she saw her first theremin. Member of a prominent musical family, and herself distinguished in piano concert work, Miss Shaw at once was fascinated by the novel instrument. With little practice, she found herself able to weave out tunes.
Returning to Hartford, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. M. Goode Wolfe, prominent capital city residents, she successfully begged her father to purchase a theremin. To her dismay, on trying the theremin she met with little luck and for more than a year the brand-new instrument was left reposing in a corner of the Wolfe music room.
Three years ago, in planning a program which she was anxious to make especially attractive in an encore performance, Miss Shaw returned to the theremin. Her better fortune on the second attempt is evidenced by her startling rise to among the best artists of the rare instrument.
All Shapes and Sizes
Miss Shaw, who is the wife of F. Raymond Shaw, and has adopted recently the concert name of Juliet Shaw (she is familiar to Hartford residents as Juliet Grace Wolfe) says that not all models are designed like a radio cabinet. There is a new model shaped like a 'cello, and which actually sounds like a 'cello, constructed for those who are " 'cello-fingered ".
Still another model has an attached keyboard which Leopld Stokowski has used to augment the Philadelphia Orchestra.
The invisible ray of the theremin, Miss Shaw says, is used in other ways besides producing music. In Professor Theremin's brownstone house in Manhattan's West Fifties, as a guest walks through the door, a shrieking alarm goes off. Touch a filing cabinet and another alarm goes off. Step to the mirror to powder you nose, and a light flashes behind the mirrors so that you cannot at first see your face, but instead, an advertising display inside the glass.
This ray is also used in prisons to detect any prisoner's approach to any piece of steel. If a prisoner walks through the door with a file or a gun, for instance, the magnetic field is disturbed and an alarm is automatically sounded. This invisible ray idea has also been employed in connection with advertising in the display windows of a New York department store. As the pedestrian walks past the window, the contact of his body with the ray lights up the display and attracts his attention.
The scheme is again worked by beams laid on a ballroom floor so that a dancer may flit across them and produce the music to which she dances, simultaneously with the motion of her body. This latter, however, is considered most difficult to perform, and to date has been accomplished by only one artist.
Cites Interest of Stokowski
Miss shaw cites the interest of Stokowski in the electromusical field as evidence of its importance and permanency. The noted conductor has experimented so far that last year in the Hollywood Bowl, filled to capacity with 20,000 persons, every patron had what amounted to a front seat, thanks to the new amplifiers which multiplied the music of each of the players by ten. Each patron could hear not only the crashing crescendos, but the softest pianissimi of Stokowski's music. In the tumultuous crashes not 100 musicians blew horns or thumped kettle drums, but one thousand. Yet, points out Miss Shaw, the keenest critic could not have detected the effect of the amplifiers.
The volume of music was managed by a little pedal no larger that the foot control of am automobile accelerator. Stokowski used no baton, but (only) that pedal. With a movement of his foot he sent music thundering across the California hillside to be distinctly heard miles away.
Era of Electronic Music
Miss Shaw believes "we are approaching an era of electronic music. To the physicist, a musical note is only a series of pulsations, depending for its pitch on the number per second. Change is not new in music, and the application of the electron to a function that has always been performed by percussion, vibrating strings or moving columns of air, calls for radical changes. It will call for a new kind of musician--one who can handle electrical equipment with the skill and reverence of an old master for his Stradivarius."
Miss Shaw is studying piano with Harold Bauer, the international artist.
She also studied with the late Edward Noyes of Boston, brother of Alfred Noyes; with the late Aurelio Giorno, pianist of the famous Elchue Trio, and with Edwin Hughes of New York. For the past two seasons she has been chosen by Hughes to present a New York recital in his "Summer Master Deries of Concerts".
Interested in Moderns
It is apparent that the Sasqua Hills artist is actively interested in moderns. She devoted part of last season to giving lecture-recitals on "Moderns and Ultra Moderns" before clubs throughout Hartford and New Haven counties.
Miss Shaw has also appeared as soloist throughout the country and has given frequent broadcasts over national hook-ups. In Connecticut she is familiar as soloist with the Travelers' Symphony Orchestra at Station WTIC.
The popular Two Piano Club, well known in Hartford, was originally started by Miss Shaw and is still coached by her. It is composed of a group of professional pianists devoted to the exclusive study of works written for two pianos and presenting a large public concert each year at Bushnell memorial.
Plays Piano with Elbows
In her concert work Miss Shaw is recognized as the artist "who plays the piano with her elbows". This too, she states, is a venture into the ultra modern fields, she having specialized in the works of Henry Cowell and presenting these numbers only in concert halls where they are particularly effective.
This season Miss shaw will be heard in many preparatory and college classes throughout this section. Her first Fairfield County appearance is being anticipated by the South Shore Music Club when she will be heard in a theremin program at the home of Mrs. Harrison Lillibridge in November 22.
Mrs. Bert Leston Taylor has composed a special number upon a study of Schumann for that day.
Newcomers at Sasqua Hills
Miss Shaw is a newcomer with her family to Sasqua Hills, having lived in Hartford since childhood where she was brought up by her family from St. Louis. Her husband, F. Raymond Shaw, is an accomplished pianist, having studied for the concert stage before entering the business field as an investment banker. He appears infrequently in the two piano programs. Mr.Shaw is known throughout the state as a golfer of ability, having proven this at the past summer's Brooklawn tournament.
Miss Shaw, as she uses the name professionally, spends much of her time with her nine-month-old daughter, Sandra. she also enjoys painting in oils and is adept in needlework as well.
[The Bridgeport Sunday Post, November 20, 1938]
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