My Theremin Lesson

Quicktime video (click on picture to play)

In the cold days of February, 1991, while Saddam Hussein was hurling Scuds at Israel, I was in Russia on a tour of Saratov and Moscow with Sara Caldwell, John Chowning, George Lewis and a number of performers. We were the first contingent in a series of visits by American musicians that Sarah conducted that year. Obviously we were the 'electronic' contingent. Toward the end of our stay in Moscow, John Chowning arranged a visit with the 95 year-old Leon Theremin.

It was bitterly cold as we climbed three flights of stairs in his building to a two-room apartment, scantily furnished, but with a 'Theremin' built by Theremin (with vacuum tubes!) sitting in the middle of the living room, as well as a piano, and a christmas tree.One of his twin daughters was there, as was Victor Komorov, a genial Russian composer who accompanied us, and our translator. We spent about an hour or so chatting with him, and of course we all got to try and play the Theremin. I went first and Theremin himself gave me a short lesson, as the attached Quicktime video will demonstrate. George Lewis had a camera with him, and filmed most of our trip, fortunately.

Our visit to Theremin in Moscow was followed up by his visit to Stanford the following year for the Stanford Centennial celebration. That too was memorable. We were there when the 97 year-old Nicholas Slonimsky greeted Theremin by saying (in Russian--Richard Taruskin translated for us) "I'm even older than you are."

Here is a photo of a conversation with Theremin, myself, Chris Chafe and Victor Komorov at Stanford.


and, during the Stanford event, at John Chowning's house, Bob Moog, myself and John.