Harpsichords and Downloads

One of my favorite things about writing music is the freedom to do a variety of things that are related to music, but not directly related to composing. I’ve written in this blog many times about the website-related issues that come with self-publishing and self-hosting (and I’ll get to a similar topic soon) but recently I’ve had an opportunity that is not quite normal, even by composer standards.

Fellow composer Steven Eiler somehow received a harpsichord. Or rather, a harpsichord-shaped object. I’m not quite sure how this harpsichord came into Steven’s possession, but considering that he keeps a clavichord in his apartment I’ve found it best to just not ask questions. As neither of us have any experience restoring baroque instruments, we thought it would be a brilliant idea to restore this one. Restore, rebuild, whatever. We had no idea what we were getting into.

Step one in restoring a harpsichord is to acquire said harpsichord, and this requires a roadtrip to Tulsa. That is, if aforementioned harpsichord is in Tulsa. So, we made a weekend trip to Tulsa, full of tacos and music and watching True Grit (which has a marvelous soundtrack) and packing up the (absolutely unplayable) harpsichord.


So we deliver the instrument to my dining room, and take the first real look at it. It appears to be a kit harpsichord, fairly well made, but whether or not it has ever been playable is beyond either of us. It has, however, been used as a plant stand, indicated by the large dark stain on the lid and soundboard. This is how we feel about the project so far:


Besides the cosmetic issues, we didn’t know how much work this project would require. We knew that the instrument didn’t play, but we didn’t know how or why. Of course, we also didn’t know how or why a harpsichord is supposed to play…

We started by removing all the jacks—that is, the part of the action that plucks the string. Many of these are in need of significant adjustment and replacement. But at least we have all of them!


Other than some problems with the action and some minor structural and cosmetic issues, this instrument should be soon be playable. Staining the instrument a dark walnut may be an option, or perhaps a baroque-style paint job. I like the idea of painting it red with a racing stripe.


Beyond the harpsichord project, I’ve also been working on a download management utility for selling sheet music, MP3s, and other music files. It is in the process of being tested, and will probably become part of the Hammer Music Management System within the next few months. It’s this ridiculously complicated system of secure links and permissions that expire and hidden file names. I’ll likely mention more about it as it’s developed into a workable thing.

Decorative element
Kyle Vanderburg