Friday, August 04, 2006

everybody needs a hobby

Well, if you've been reading my adventures with exotic antique keyboards lately, here's the next installment. Novachord #117 has now been adopted and reunited with her sisters, #132 and #1431. All of them will be getting the full restore job over the next few years, after which time I should be able to build them by hand.

As if that wasn't enough, about a half-hour after finalizing the deal for the last of the triplets, I was informed that my offer had been accepted on an incredible and historic instrument.

I grew up training as a classical pianist, organist, and harpsichordist. I hated pop music until the end of my sophomore year in high school, when some friends of mine told me that they had a record that I needed to hear. I begrudgingly said all right, and they put on the Moody Blues "On the Threshold of a Dream" album. Already a well-educated classical musician, I could tell that the orchestrations on the album were not a real orchestra, and when I asked about it, I was told that it was some kind of a weird keyboard instrument like a funny organ that was being used. I later found out that the instrument was called a "Mellotron" but was unable to find anybody that could give me any details. I became obsessed by the Moodies, both for the obvious classical influences in their music and for the supersonic string section sound that the instrument made, as well as a number of other sounds that it became evident that it produced.

Soon thereafter, I found the band Yes, who also used these Mellotrons, and I was utterly hooked and knew once and for all what I really wanted to do with my life. I wanted to play music with one of these forward-thinking and experimental bands. I also finally started to get some details.

The Mellotron was a British instrument that used tapes to play back instrument sounds. With a 37-note keyboard range, the instrument used 37 strips of tape, each strip about six feet long with three parallel tracks of sound recorded on it. Hold a key down, the tape strip corresponding to that note gets pulled across one of the 37 tape heads and plays about 8 seconds of the sound of an instrument or an ensemble of instruments playing one note at the same time. When it reaches the end of that tape strip, the sound stops. When you lift the key, a spring pulls the strip back to the starting position. One key, one pitch, one tape strip, three sounds. You change the sounds with a lever that slides the tapes across the heads to the appropriate track. The most common sounds used in that early rock were a violin section, a flute, and a cello or a choir.

If you've ever wondered what that warbly, spacey flute on the intro of "Strawberry Fields Forever" is, it's a Mellotron.

All of those rich washes of violins in the Moody Blues and Yes were done on Mellotrons. Those two bands are entirely responsible for me being the person that I am today, for better or for worse.

I finally found a small Mellotron in 2001, a single-keyboard model. They only made about 2500 Mellotrons total, with five different models between the early 60's and the late 80's when they went out of production, and with the smallest model accounting for about 2000 of them.

Tonight I acquired a big Mellotron, a twin-keyboard model, one that is part of the smaller portion of the 2500 total manufactured.

My new Mellotron was originally owned by a man named Patrick Moraz. Mr. Moraz had the great privilege of becoming the third keyboard player for Yes in 1976, and played with the band for a couple of years. In 1980, he became the second keyboard player for the Moody Blues, staying with them until 1991.

My Mellotron toured with both Yes and the Moody Blues, and is even prominently featured in the Moodies' video for the song "The Voice," which is one of the Moody Blues' two biggest hits, with "Nights in White Satin" being the other one.

After all of this time of lusting for a big Mellotron I have found one, and it was owned by the guy that played with the two most important rock bands in my life and used on stage and on recordings with both of these bands.

Full circle.

No more keyboards for a while. I'm running out of room. Now it's time to play!


Blogger Ronni said...

I hope you have a big house! We have an old pump organ, a player piano, and a box grand from 1874. They need tuning, nobody ever plays them, and they take up too much room. Husband wants to donate the box grand to a museum when he dies. I asked (hopefully) if he would consider donating it earlier, but no.

7:51 AM  
Blogger Ronni said...

By the way, I am suitably impressed with your Mellotron. I saw Yes before your guy joined them--around 1970, I think. Things were something of a blur.

7:53 AM  
Blogger Mary K. Goddard said...


10:00 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home