"Who owns Clara Rockmore's theremin"

Posted: 1/7/2006 5:13:00 PM
Reid Welch

Joined: 1/7/2006


question asked in old thread apparently closed.

Clara had willed her concert theremin to Dalit Warshaw, a former student whose mother was a close friend to Clara.

Dalit had given up interest in learning to play the theremin some years before. The will was never changed. I did not know that.

In late conversation with Clara at her home, in the summer of '97, Clara brightly told me, and I paraphrase from memory: "My theremin is going to the IPAM (International Piano Archives at Maryland) along with all my papers."

That was a pleasing prospect to me, who visited the Archive at the University of Maryland, meeting founder, Gregor Benko at that time. Me relating to Mr. Benko what an asset that unique theremin will be for the instituion: something alive and accessible for thereminists to see and play on at the archive.

Why the IPAM? That was where sister Nadia Reisenberg's library of papers had gone years earlier. These sisters were inseparable, nearly.

The IPAM did not get the theremin; Clara, being of forgetful mind at the end, and often confused as to details, had never updated the will.

In result, the unique instrument has been lost to public view, so far as I know. Not a thing to be done about it now.

If ever it resurfaces and is put to the public view again, time will have altered it for the worse. Its carefully attuned sound, -designed- by Clara herself, will likley have been lost to some great or small extent. The entire intstrument is a symbiosis. If some tone deaf technical fumbler gets into the instrument to fix it when some small derangement silences it, -changes- are liable to result in loss of the Rockmore tone.

That is the double pity.

sorry, I wish I could've mapped out its circuitry. But even Clara did not trust anyone to go very deep into the instrument, other than Bob Moog. And even he had been locked out from her life by then.

I was the only guy with personal access. I did not want to push the matter too hard. As it turned out, I did push too hard, unwittingly falliing into a trap of soap-opera proportions.

Well, that's enough. It makes me upset to think about the final seven months or so of her life and my exclusion from her life during that time.

Posted: 1/7/2006 6:04:42 PM

From: Richmond Hill, Georgia

Joined: 9/18/2005

From Levnet

"Ms Warshaw, as you will read on her website, uses her theremin in public performances and does not keep it "gagged and silent in her home". There was an exhibition of Clara Rockmore memorabilia a few years ago in New York City in the old STEINWAY building on 57th Street.

There were photos and manuscripts on display along with Clara's instrument (which Ms Warshaw had generously lent to the organizers). At the opening of the exhibit, the instrument was played by Pamelia Kurstin who happened to be living in New York at that time. Dalit Warshaw herself, although she attended the event, did not play. It is my impression that the kind of music she performs on the instrument is not the kind of classical transcription repertoire that Clara played but rather more contemporary."

Posted: 1/7/2006 6:11:34 PM

From: Hillsborough, NC (USA)

Joined: 2/13/2005

REID!!! It's great to hear from you again! Thanks so much for this post. This information should really go into our FAQ. The time you got to spend with Clara was quite special, and I'm certainly envious. I would have loved to get to know her and to experience her passion for the theremin first-hand.

Welcome to Theremin World!
Posted: 1/8/2006 2:59:26 PM

From: new haven ct.

Joined: 7/8/2005

Hi Reed, it's great to hear you still sneak a peak now and then. hope you'll be back for a while.
Posted: 1/9/2006 2:19:56 PM
Jon B

From: Somerville, MA

Joined: 8/11/2005

Pamelia and Dalit were supposed to be performing in Boston at the end of this month, but it looks like it's been rescheduled for the spring.
Posted: 1/9/2006 3:58:06 PM
Charlie D

From: England

Joined: 2/28/2005

Mr. Welch - thank you for your detailed and most tantalising (almost *frustrating*) response.

Let me first apologise for confusing you with Dalit Warshaw (which led to me refering to you as 'she'). Your very name seems to be shrouded in mystery!

I have heard Jason, Peter (Pringle) and Howard (Mossman) mention you countless times, but have never been able to find out anything more about your (clearly diverse) theremin experience than hear-say, which is a shame.

I do hope you decide to stay here, even if it is only to answer the occasional question. I (and I daresay everyone else) would be fascinated to learn more about your time with Clara and your experiences prior to the 'theremin renaissance' of the mid-nineties.
Posted: 1/10/2006 1:23:13 AM
Reid Welch

Joined: 1/7/2006

hypergolic: thanks for the update, for this heartening news. So! The instrument is seen and played and Dalit cares for it after all.

In that last summer of '97, I spent a week with Clara. I stopped in first, on my way to the Portland convention, where I met Jason and others of your group for the first time. Peter Pringle. Charlie Lester.. so many.

On the overnight visit I recorded Clara's greeting for the convention. That was pretty neat! Do you guys recall when I (finally) got the tape cued up and out from the speaker popped frail Clara's voice?

Bob Moog! Came over and shooke my hand. He was utterly delighted. "God, man. How did you do that? She won't even speak to me lately!".

Indeed, by that year, Clara had insulated herself from all her family and old friends excepting: the housekeeper, Steven M. Martin, myself and Dalit Warshaw's mother.

When I realized how insular Clara had become- suspicious and paranoid (but realistically so, I suppose, from her perspective), I worked for a week with her, after the Portland convention.

We spent hours together every day.
As I assiduously photocopied one thousand or so documents from her library of papers, with her permission.

And I worked with her family, the Shermans (Nadia's son, Robert and his son, especially) to get them back into Clara's trust.

Why, Clara had even closed out her older, sole-surviving sister, whom I met and had quite a conversation with.

Old age sometimes brings a minor form of dementia; a querulousness and distrust of all but a few. I was charmed with Clara, and she was in like with me:
"You are different. You are sensitive."

Steven Martin fixed that right away, soon after my visit.

Here is a soap opera. Is anyone interested in tuning in? I hope not!


PS: Jason, are you still with Microsoft? Or has old age (ha ha) obsoleted your use at the grist mill?

Posted: 1/16/2006 11:24:09 AM

From: Hillsborough, NC (USA)

Joined: 2/13/2005

Yup, still working in the "velvet sweatshop". At least until World Thereminization takes off and I'm hired as a consultant to the stars :)
Posted: 1/17/2006 2:32:19 PM

From: Kingston, NY

Joined: 2/13/2005

fyi gang, Dalit Warshaw is listed among the artists for the second New York EXPERIMENTAL THEREMIN ORCHESTRA Series at the ISSUE PROJECT ROOM.


I'm hoping she brings the Rockmore instrument.
Posted: 1/17/2006 8:49:28 PM

From: Los Angeles

Joined: 3/8/2005

Reid Welch wrote:

"Steven Martin fixed that right away, soon after my visit.

Here is a soap opera. Is anyone interested in tuning in?"

I would love to hear what happened! You are very lucky to have spent some time with Clara - I sincerely hope you can fill us in on the rest of the "soap opera". It is theremin history.

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