Oberlin's Plucked Instrument Collection
Oberlin Conservatory possessed an impressive array of lutes and early guitars when I began my stewardship of the guitar program there in 1992. It has since then expanded and now constitutes a formidable collection of musical instruments. This post will be a photographic tour of the entire collection with some identification and commentary.
What it is important to understand about these instruments is that they all are available for the students to use, by simply signing them out.
The original assortment of instruments represents both purchases and gifts and has been curated and maintained with affection by our lute instructor (and Director of Admissions), Michael Manderen. He is an active and accomplished performer on the lute and related early instruments, as well as on guitars of both the classical and jazz varieties. He provided the commentary I've included below.
In addition to this array, Oberlin was recently the recipient of an enormous and important archive of American music, instruments and ephemera, the Frederick R. Selch Collection. Donated to Oberlin by Selch's widow, Patricia Bakwin Selch in 2007, the inventory lists over 10,000 items, including some 700 instruments. (In addition to this extraordinary gift, she endowed a professorship in musicology; the combination has been the cornerstone of the new Selch Center for American Music at Oberlin). Included in this treasure trove of musical Americana are a number of guitars and guitar-like instruments. Most in the collection were built in the late 18th-early 20th centuries and many are in need of repair or refurbishment. Still, they form a compelling view of musical life in a prior time. (In addition, the collection includes plucked string instruments from nearly every corner of the globe: it is an extraordinary world music resource). We hope to see some of the more important items in the collection properly returned to playing condition as time passes. Some of the the Selch Collection instruments are pictured here.
I hope you enjoy the tour!
The Conservatory owns one modern classical guitar. It was a gift from James Stroud, 2014. The guitar is a 2012 Jochen Röthel, built in Germany. It is traditional-build, light Brazilian rosewood instrument with a bright spruce top. It boasts beautiful craftsmanship and a robust, warm tone. It has already been used by one student for his solo recital.
Michael Mandaren writes: This Baroque guitar made for us by Toronto based maker, Michael Schreiner in 2010 or so. It is a marvelous instrument - very light, bright, and responsive, with a great deal of "ping", and because of this, quite present in an ensemble situation. It is a also wonderful to hear De Visee as he himself heard his pieces.
This is a gem of an intstrument - a 7-course lute made by Raymond Zucarro Passauro. Though it was made for us in the early 1970's, it is very light and responsive, and artful in construction. Note the the "lace" binding, joining table to bowl. This was done often in the Renaissance to facilitate removing the sound board for inside repair work. The sound is delicate and balanced and it is a joy to play.
This is another fantastic instrument from Michael Schreiner - a large theorbo modelled on an early 17th century instrument by Koch. Ideal for Monteverdi, but works well for Kapsberger and Piccinini. Single strung throughout, reentrant tuning on the top two courses. The string length is quite long, with a large bowl, and an overall length of about 6 and a half feet!
A prime example of an eight course lute by Robert Lundberg, acquired by Oberlin in the 80's if I remember correctly. Though relatively unadorned, it was made well, plays well and has a good authentic sound when strung in nylgut.
Another instrument by Passauro, this a vihuela. It is lightly constructed, with 6 courses, tuned like a lute, pitched in G. There are very few models extant to inform a modern reconstruction of a vihuela (Spanish lute). Mr. Passauro made for Oberlin this very successful version in the early 1970's. True to form, it not only sounds beautiful, but is lovely to look at and hold.
This is a 14-course chitarrone made by Robert Lundberg for Oberlin in the mid-1970's. It can be strung in wire, and tuned theorbo-like, with reentrant tuning. Right now it is set up as a medium sized archlute. Though soft in sound, it functions well, and is quite comfortable to play.
This is an instrument Dean Nuernberger, former collegium director at Oberlin brought with him from a previous teaching post. He actually had it displayed on his living room wall until I persuaded him that we needed to press it into service for a growing lute consort I (Mike Manderen) started to provide lute players to Collegium in the 70s and 80s. Though quite dated (even then!), it works and can be useful to learn on."
That concludes Michael Manderen's tour of the early instruments. Following, are shots of some of the Selch Collection instruments of interest. Many are folkloric in origin and intent; others are classical instruments. All need some refurbishment or care. There is a class dedicated to helping students learn instrument rebuilding and repair through addressing the needs of these instruments. Little by little, they will, as much as possible, be made playable again.
I hope you've enjoyed this pictorial tour of our instrument holdings. We hope to add to it with the purchase of 19th-century guitars and additional modern guitars. In the meantime, Oberlin students have plenty to work with!
Many thanks to Michael Manderen for his long-time curation of the lutes and early guitars, and for his comments here. And additional thanks to Julius Carlson, Interim Musicology Instructor, 2015-16, who walked me through the Selch Collection instruments.