GL: That's a funny story. We all have our horror stories. I've heard of some players who become so upset with people
use the term 'hurdy gurdy man'. Other players won't have a problem with that at all, it will be something else that will
for whatever reason evoke a response along the lines of 'let's shape up now when referring to the instrument'.
You bring up a good point. I find that when people call me the 'hurdy gurdy man', I kind of like that because it's a distinguishing
feature. In fact I kind of play on it and say 'I'd like to be your hurdy gurdy guy' and they all laugh at that.
There's always going to be a smart aleck in the audience, you can count on it, every audience has at least one. To diffuse
it I'll usually say something funny and usually people just forget about it.
I'll give you an example of this
one time I was talking to a prominent musician. I can't say his name out of respect for his privacy, but he started working
with me and we were at a party together. I felt more bad for him than for me, but his wife is a violinist and she was
present at that one lecture when that person called my instrument 'funky', and so she said 'hey look! It's that funky instrument again'.
I didn't mind too much, but her husband looked like he was completely embarrassed. Whenever stuff like that happens I usually
just laugh it off and shift the energy back to what's really important, which is the beauty of the instrument.
GL: That's a
fun story. I know from our own experiences that we always get the one guy who says 'Can you play In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida',
which is in no way reflective of our repertoire. I think there's one in every crowd.
JK: There is.
I get that all the time, say "can you play 'Clair De Lune' on that thing?". One of the experiences I always get, keep in mind
I play for a lot of senior audiences, they're experience of the hurdy gurdy is the monkey and organ grinder. Which of course
isn't a hurdy gurdy at all, but rather a big music box. Anyhow, they say 'where's the monkey? ha ha ha'. They always
say that like it's the first time any person has said that and they think it's a great joke. I get that one at least two times
GL: Let's go the other way, what's your best hurdy gurdy performance experience?
JK: Playing with the
Northbrook Symphony. I loved every second of it, I want to do that again. Composing for the instrument, knowing that someday
(soon I hope) it will be performed with orchestra. I love composing for the instrument. Also, there was this one
time when I first received the first instrument you sold me in '06, I composed this piece and it was going to be to a holiday inspired
concerto. I had been working on this concerto on & off, but basically it's inspired by the French Noels. I take things
that are common to all of us, like Noel of the Christmas tree or Noel of the Falling Snow, or something that. In other
words, song of the falling snow. There's this one I wrote called Noel of the Kids Building Snow Men for violin and hurdy gurdy.
I showed it to this very wonderful concert violinist. We were playing along and she was smiling and it was fun, and that was
one of my best experiences ever.
GL: You mentioned the concert a moment ago. If you don't mind, I would like
to talk about that for a few minutes. The orchestra gig is somewhat atypical of what most hurdy gurdy players will be doing,
so I'm a little curious about the process. How far in advance of the concert did you begin practicing for that one?
I tell you what, I was practicing for that one as early as possible. Your instrument, the Aquitaine you built for me,
arrived Sept 10 2010. I began practicing the day I received it. I pretty much practiced every day from Sept 10 all the
way up to Feb 27th. That was interrupted a little bit with my piano work on my upcoming c.d. 'Fermata's Journey', we were recording
that in late October and November. But basically I was practicing every day. I learned from my teachers that
if you're going to be on that concert stage you have to live, eat, drink, breathe, and sleep that music, practicing it all the time.
By the time you get in front of the audience...you know you don't have time to think about the music, your fingers just have to take
over and just do it.
GL: I happen to know that you performed that on an instrument set up in the G/C tuning.
I wonder, how did the music fit with that? Did you have to do any serious reworking of the piece to make it viable for the hurdy
gurdy? Or was it a pretty good fit to start with? NOTE: The music performed at the concert was Haydn's
JK: With the G/C tuning, the music fit perfectly. Haydn was writing for the Lira Organizzati
which is like a hurdy gurdy, only with little flute/organ pipes with it. We didn't really have to transpose anything, or even
rearrange any notes. There was a problem with some of the passages where he had eighth notes that were repeated. So we
had to play two c's, two a's, two g's very quickly. Getting that accentuated on the wheel took a little time. We had to
figure out different types of phrasings for that. It really was all right, it just had to be worked with. I think the
Lira Organizzati does have some type of mechanisms to allow for the pipes to open up, so repeated notes would be more like an organ
on that instrument, whereas on the hurdy gurdy we have the wheel and the strings. I really had to do some minute accentuations
to make it sound like a repeated note. Also, the ascending scale passages, particularly in the first movement, proved
very difficult to do smoothly. I remember the irony that the day after the performance, I felt they were a
lot easier (laughs!) The music that Haydn wrote fit beautifully. It was quite charming, I think Haydn himself would
have liked it.
GL: You mention the repeated notes. So, you would use the wheel accent the repeating eighth notes
rather than the trompette, or a grace note?
JK: I tried different effects. First of all, the music director felt
that the trompette would not fit in with the orchestra. I respect his call on that, he's the boss. I think that particularly
during the Finale it would have been great, and it would have been a great aid to me to help accentuate those repeating notes.
What I was able to do, I experimented with giving slight accentuations on the upturn, so right when I was at the uppermost point at
the revolution of the wheel, I would give it a little more push and it was just right for the Haydn. Let's say you're
going forward with the wheel, and you're on the lower side/under side of it's rotation. When you're coming up again on that
revolution just giving it a little more 'oompff' seemed to do the trick. The other thing that I did which seemed to work fairly
well....the director felt it was a little 'rattle-y' but I liked it myself, and this would only work with two chanters so you have
enough resistance: You take the wheel, leave it in it's upright position, and take the back of your palm where your thumb is,
and just tap it real quick as you're going down. It produces a lot of repeated notes. And then when it's no longer at
that point, grab the handle and bring it up again. That was enough to get me through the repeated passages, I could do
that like a da-da-da-da-da-da-daaaaaa (spoken very quickly) and then the notes would be longer so I would grab the handle more firmly
for the longer notes.
GL: Great stuff! Thank you. Throughout the majority of the first movement, it sounds
like you're fairly much just sticking to one chanterelle. In the second movement it sounds like you add a low octave 'g' chanter,
and then in the third movement you're back to your higher pitched chanters. What was your approach to coming up with the arrangements
to that, by which I mean which string goes where for which movement and what piece?
JK: I love the Aquitaine for it's upbeat
sound. It's got a delightedly celebratory sound that's very sweet and at the same time very bright like a trumpet.
Not the trompette on the hurdy gurdy, but like a real trumpet. I felt that for the two outer movements that that instrument
would really sing. I just loved it for that. It had all the gaiety and sprightly charm that I think Haydn loved. For the
middle movement, because it's so sweet and luscious, I felt that the larger instrument, the LaPriel would give me more of a cutting
edge with that deep richness. I loved the lower strings on it for that, plus I could do a lot more of like a cello vibrato on
that, and it came off just fine. I love the idea of switching instruments, in fact a lot of the players asked me
'Why do you switch instruments?' and I explained it live. They were quite interested in that.
GL: I notice that
you change from one instrument to another between the first and second movement. I've never seen that before in a concert setting.
Tell how that worked, live in front the audience with the orchestra at your back.
JK: You know, I had the hurdy
gurdy on a small table and I was very self conscious when everyone was waiting for me to change instruments. But at the same
time, I look at it this way: let's say you're playing a piece and you're a violinist or violist and you have to tune between movements.
That's sort of the way I look at it, we're between movements and we understand that the musicians are getting ready for the next,
and the soloist must retune. In this case I didn't have to retune, but I was changing my hurdy gurdies. What I find
fascinating about hurdy gurdies is that no one instrument can have everything you want, unlike a violin where everything is built
to one specification. Even if you get three large hurdy gurdies with all the strings you want on them, you can swap out strings
to play in different keys, and different setups, etc. For me I think it would be standard operating procedure to have
two instruments on the concert stage. I know that's kind of a new thing for people, but looking at the way the instrument functions
and what is required in the music, it's probably best to play more than one instrument.
GL: Interesting approach! Throughout
most of the piece, but most notably in the Finale, there's some terrific interplay between the organ and the hurdy gurdy. I
know that both instruments were used so as to mimic the sound of the Lira Organizzati, and you guys certainly nailed it.
I can't help but wonder how much time you spent in rehearsal with the organist, and also the orchestra before the performance.
Larry Rapchak, the orchestra conductor, is an amazing musician. He came to my house about three or four times and we ran through
it. I just thought we would be doing the solo parts, and here Larry sits down on my synthesizer and he's playing the whole orchestra
part! The guy is amazing, he can just play it all. He's an amazing keyboard artist. So Larry and I practiced
about three or four times, an hour each time. Then we had one evening rehearsal with the orchestra, and then a rehearsal right
before the concert. All in all Larry and I practiced about four hours, and then another two hours with the orchestra.
GL: When I listen to the Finale from the Haydn Notturno, I'm hearing some impressive note runs, especially in the
upper octave. They sound very demanding in terms of speed, and your execution is excellent. I'm curious about your technique;
when doing those rapid runs up & down the keychest, do you do crossovers / crossunders with your fingers, or do you rely on rapid
repositioning of your hand?
JK: That's an interesting question, I had to approach that in terms of what was best suited
to the music. You can do crossovers and crossunders just like a harpsichordist or pianist, but after looking at the finale,
it goes so fast, it's at such a great quip, that you cannot afford a bumble. You just absolutely cannot afford even the chance
of your fingers not being able to turn under fast enough, or your fingers not being able to turn over fast enough. So what I did was
shifting, I just practiced shifting very quickly. And what I found that really worked with shifting is to divide it up
four and four. So, let's say it's an
octave run, just do the first tetra chord, the first four notes, shift your
hand and then do the other four. This worked out like a charm. What I would do is take time, maybe an half
an hour each day, where I would not even play the instrument, but rather shift my hand up and down just to get the feeling for where
the keys are. The F# to G in the first octave really proved to be a challenge with the way that's positioned because to be able
to get around that F#, I had to do a very fast little trill like F#, G, E, F#, and then back to G again. That was
pretty tricky at the speed required, but again it's just something you
work with. I would say that in that case, repositioning
with the scale passages especially helped. And then doing the trill passages, you just had to alternate fingers. In slower pieces, like the middle movement, that's when I would turn the fingers around and do the fingers over & under.
That was better suited for that.