Craig Tomlinson – Instrument Builder

Craig Tomlinson – Instrument Builder


Lynn and I are often surprised by the unusual niches that Vancouver fills in the world Did you know that Vancouver is? respected by international aficionados of the harpsichord thanks mostly to our next guest the Harpsichord is an important instrument of our history and though it peaked in the late 1700s it still maintains a devoted and enthusiastic following believe me if you want a harpsichord built or repaired Vancouver is the place you want to be? Please welcome Craig Tomlinson My son was probably about two years old We were walking through I think was Park Royal shopping center, and he saw his first piano and was looking at it What kind of harpsichord is that? So I’d like to thank Sam and Lynn for this opportunity it’s it’s wonderful salon you’ve put on So, how did I ever get into harpsichord making well it wasn’t a conscious decision now? I think Kate’s speech at the beginning just kind of covered every every bass. Uh, Anyway, so I started off quite young. I was 16 years old when I started building folk instruments I had seen my first Harpsichord when I was 10 years old and was quite intrigued by it and I saw a Violin maker the same day the first time I ever saw a violin maker. So I think something clicked or snapped or something I’m not sure what So I was a folk musician back in the 60s I decided that I would like to have a Dulcimer to play and there were no dulcimers to be had in Vancouver So I thought I had a little picture from one of the encyclopedias that I cut out and tried to make a Dulcimer well a year and a half later. I had a dulcimer that kind of worked sort of So I thought well why not build another one? so I decided to build a Few more after that a few more after that and kind of morphed until I was thinking after a year and a half I need a bigger project So at that point I met two people kind of changed my life a bit And luckily they needed a housemate. They’re renting a place in Kitsilano One was Doreen Oak. And the other Ray Nurse Ray was an absolute fantastic builder of really early music instrument salutes later violinaires and violas , viola da gambas So I kind of got into that sphere a bit Doreen was at the time Teaching harpsichord and she had a wonderful kid instrument around the house So I was able to kind of poke at it and find out what it was all about So a few years later, she had quite a few students and I was asked to if I could build some harps Of course for them, so I thought well, this is the bigger project that I wanted So there was a few harpsichord kit makers mostly in the eastern states and in the Boston area and Luckily, I was able to get a few of those and I assembled the kits and I think I must have assembled six or seven Kits and then I thought well I kind of need a bigger project And I could see kind of the limitations They were using some woods that I really didn’t like the sound of so that point I met two people Ted Turner on Pender Island who at that time was a draftsman for the Edgar collection, which is one of the best collections in Europe of Keyboard instruments was early keyboard instruments And so I worked with Ted for about two years Kind of off and on and then I was introduced to John Phillips in Berkeley, California And so I was able to go down and work with him for a few more years now I really liked Ted’s sound he had a wonderful sound into the instruments, but they kind of lacked a bit these instruments have to work perfectly every time it’s kind of like your car you wanted to be able to Operate every single time you sit down to play it or to drive it But John’s instruments worked amazingly well, but I didn’t really like his sound so much So I thought well, I think it’s time to go out on my own. So I moved back to Vancouver for Berkeley and Set up my own shop. So the dream that I had was to have something that works perfectly well and Requires almost no maintenance and you can drive it anytime you want and it sounds great kind of like a good sports car So this this instrument is a French to manual harpsichord This is what came out of Building for 40 years. I guess finally I figured out how to do it properly The harpsichord is different from the piano Not only in the fact that it’s about fourteen hundred pounds lighter than a modern grand But it’s it’s very very lightly built. It’s lightly strong. It’s very Open and airy and it’s sound It’s much like a guitar or a lute or something. It’s or a violin is a really good example When the revival started in the 50s and 60s, oh, the the manufacturers were making the harpsichords more like pianos Very very heavy heavy structures and there was almost no sound that came out of them So the idea was to go back to what the original instruments were being The original instruments back in the 14 15 16 17 and 1800’s They were built very light very responsive and they had a huge sound compared to what was coming out of these modern instruments So I was able to achieve that So the the woods that I used on these I have gone to the sources in Europe and pretty much look through the the forests and come up with logs and I have the logs cut up and then sent back to North America And so the sound boards in particular are really what creates the sound and they’re made of a very lively Spruce from well, this one is from MIT involved in southern Bavaria as is the Italian as are most violins and cellos Basses things like that. They’re all kind of from the same area in the same type of spruce so This kind of represents the the apex of the harpsichord world. This one ended up as 63 notes it’s just over five octaves, which is what the the modern modern Harpsichords were at that time when they started to lose favor in the 1800’s. So right around 1800 the piano took over Which is kind of nice because I built forte as well, which is is what took over from this one And that’s kind of a different boat altogether of there They are slightly heavier built and these but the harpsichords are really really what I love to build Over here. There’s an Italian harpsichord. So it’s kind of like the French but it it’s it’s much smaller and It has a completely different sound to it as well. This is a more really sound I’ll just And the French instrument I’m not going to do a demonstration because Alex Weimann here was here two years ago and did a wonderful demonstration It has a really nice travel to it too kind of a crystal clear trouble So basically the the mechanism that Is in the harpsichord is called a jack and I brought along a large jack here so you can actually see what happens so pretend my finger is these the String. Well, what happens is? The key lever will be depressed It’ll shove the the jack up in the air and at the same time it’ll pluck the string And then what happens is this will just fold back and it sits on the damper on the way down So it’s very very simple, but it has to work absolutely perfectly well So it’s really important. So I’ve been asked to bring a few slides along of what actually happens in the building process This is in in Europe in Berlin actually Going through a collection I pick out what instrument I actually want to be working on and then although at the usually out the museum I’ll write up a little manual with all the dimensions of everything. I want to be putting into it and You can see from the manual that I’m a typical Canadian I’ll have half of it is in Imperial and the rest is in metric. So What can I say? I have my son working for me right now and He kind of looks out and just shakes his head I think Then next I’ll set up draw up a set of quick plans and then it’s off to the shop to just start the work process and Pretty soon. We just started to French doubles much like in the photograph right there. We started two days ago and It’ll go into paint and just very quickly Then it gets into gilding and gold leafing and there’s a lot of gilding that goes on in in the instrument it’s one of my favorite things to do just you end up with gold all over the floor and Vacuuming it up in the vacuum cleaner at the end Then the keyboards keyboards are reverse Ebony x or naturals and bone accidentals. Luckily there was never any Ivory in them. So I was lucky in that that respect and all the internal working parts. Jack’s things like that There’s a harpsichord on the side and the finished instrument So total process is really about four months from start to finish, but we always do multiples in there what I want to say also just at the very end to wrap things up is that I’ve been in many many cities in the world working in different areas Paris London Edinburgh. That’s a capital and in San Francisco but Vancouver is really one of the best spots to do what I’m doing because it’s it’s small enough that I can get around and pick Up materials and not spend a whole day running out to the airport and doing all of that But also the the climate is wonderful too for harpsichords We have the nice dry summers Not the high humidity that we really get in the back back east and in Japan and places like that So it’s it’s absolutely wonderful And of course what better thing to do on those rainy months is to sit in your workshop producing harpsichords But really above everything else is the artistic community that’s fantastic and over the years I’ve had a wonderful symbiotic relationship with Early music, Vancouver Oh and really it’s been it’s been fabulous because without me no harpsichords to play without them No-one’s going to play the harpsichord. So it’s absolutely wonderful. But also we’ve got Vancouver recital society We’re bringing an Instrumentalists and organizations to orchestras from all over the world as the Bach Collegium from Japan is in the photograph right now Vancouver opera Jonathan Darlington the conductor was originally started off as a traveling harpsichordist in Europe and the finally Alex Weimann from Pacific Baroque Orchestra Who is also under of early music Vancouver and of course last but not least the public’s alone So we’re really blessed to be in this city. Thank you very much

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