In modern understanding all responsibility for successes and failures lies on the individual. The further I go, the more I realize that the idea that all merits belongs to a single person is very often a fiction as in reality we are all more or less indebted to employees, friends, mentors and teachers.
It’s not too popular to stop for a moment and thank those who helped us along the way, but even at the cost of looking like a pander, I will dedicate this page to my teachers. In my instrument building activity I had three of them: each has contributed to my training in different ways, both with practical teachings and broadening my mental perspective.
Joel Speerstra was the first to introduce me to the clavichord, an instrument almost totally neglected. After the first meeting, during a summer academy in Smarano, I quickly realized that just a single week of practice at the clavichord had appreciably improved the way I played the organ.
At the academy there were some beautiful clavichords by Joel and others, very average, by a builder that I won’t mention. The only good thing about these last instruments, on which nobody ever wanted to practice, was to led me think: “Well, I probably can do better than this”. So when I came back home, I started building my first clavichord.
In truth the appearance of the instrument tends to deceive about the real difficulty of building a good clavichord and it has taken me almost 10 years of experiments before I designed and built instruments that I felt really satisfied with; during all these years Joel supported me with advice, comments and introduced me to organological literature.
From 2013 to 2015 I had the opportunity to study organ and clavichord with Joel in Gothenburg and to help him in the construction of some of his instruments. During this time, we also worked on my thesis on the tonal differences of the various woods used in historical soundboards. Thank to him, I have learned to understand the importance of studying historical models and it is thanks to his teaching that I have approached material tuning.
Joel not only is a musician of deep sensitivity, a very good teacher and a friend with an excellent sense of humor: he is also one of the very few examples of perfect union between builder and performer. For me it is a model of how these two activities, surely not easy to bring together, enrich each other.
During my study in Gothenburg, I also was introduced to the excellent organ builder, Munetaka Yokota, who had supervised the construction of the large North German Baroque Organ in Gothenburg. It soon became clear to me that Munetaka, not only was a jovial and nice Japanese gentleman, but also had an encyclopedic knowledge of traditional organ building and an uncommon sensitivity for sound. Attracted by these qualities and by his way of doing, it didn’t take long before I started to help him in his interesting projects; I owe to him much of what I know about organ building. During the work the thing that impressed me was his attention to sound… and noise.
Nobody more than Munetaka has instilled in me the love and interest for hand tools and traditional construction methods: working in a similar way, it is often possible to better understand the way of thinking of the ancient masters.
One of the most important teachings in this craft, although many readers will think it’s total nonsense, is that trying to achieve absolute perfection is a wrong attitude in instrument building, because perfection feels sterile and unnatural. Munetaka argued that beauty and interest, must complement each other and he never failed to give us examples of this whenever we had the opportunity to visit historical organs.
Munetaka is not only a nice person with whom to have great conversations: he is also a person for whom it is very nice to work for. He manages to understand the strengths of every employee and to leave a lot of freedom, while always demanding highest quality; this quality is very rare today and was probably the secret of many ancient organ builders in directing different craftsman to obtain the best possible result.
Keith Hill can be considered without a doubt one of the best instrument maker of the last 250 years. I am aware this might sound like an overstatement to somebody; yet, at the proof of facts, very few others have come as close as him to the acoustic qualities of great antiques.
As a teenager I never was too fond of harpsichord performances, possibly because they were modern and unsatisfactory instruments. Yet after hearing one of his instruments in concert, I started to look at the harpsichord with new eyes. I eventually decided to write to him to congratulate and ask for some advice. He replied that he was not interested in giving me practical advice; but if I really wanted to improve, the first step I had to do was to radically change my way of thinking and to understand once and for all the difference between a real instrument builder and a musical furniture maker, since the two ways are antithetical.
Faced with this answer I had to recognize that, after all, he was right. This was the starting point of a long pen friendship with wide exchange of views, during which I learned, among others, to express myself decently in English.
The more we came in agreement, the more the desire to study with him increased, until we agreed for the first months of 2019.
Keith is not only a deeply intelligent person who has totally devoted his life to understand how to create an excellent sound, but he is also a spirit blessed with incredible sensitivity to sound, music and art. His basic assumption is that the foundation of artistic creation, to which music and instrument building belong, is human perception. Whenever the latter is lost of sight, the result is likely to be mediocre. Consequently, an instrument, in its highest sense, should not be thought of as an object that emits sound, but rather as a tool designed to produce musical “affects”.
In a field, like the harpsichord making trade, that seems sometimes to be ruled by cold philology, it was really refreshing to learn from him how for a true instrument maker the main reference should be the emotional level rather than else.
The teachings of these colleagues, to which I am bound by a feeling of gratitude and friendship, have wonderfully complemented each other and helped me towards increasingly better instruments.
Together with them I would also like to thank the skilled organ builder Andrea Zeni, who has always friendly helped me to get the best materials and given valuable suggestions.
Finally I’d like to thank all those friends and musicians who believed in me and supported my efforts by either buying my instruments or using them in concerts and recordings; with their suggestions, requests and ideas, they gave me valuable feedback on good things but also on what to improve.
This last one doesn’t seem like a big thing; yet in the life of an instrument builder, little is as valuable as feedback from musicians and audience.
Without all these people I would never have made it and this page is simply to greet and thank them all!