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Clara Rockmore - Thereminist
Clara Rockmore at the theremin
The Theremin
Although not a voice, we thought the theremin in general and Clara Rockmore in particular was a perfect addition to this Other Performers of Interest area. For one thing, the Webmaster is a theremin hobbiest and has been since around 1960 when he built his first as a child. He built a Big Briar (Moog) Etherwave Theremin, which has since been sold, and purchased one of the last ten Big Briar Professional model series 91A theremins which are designed to look and sound much like the original as shown in this photo with Clara Rockmore.

The theremin has a sound that ranges from, and sounds much like, a cello or string bass to the highest notes of a violin. The tember can be preset for a variety of moods and styles. But in addition to the Webmaster's long interest in theremins it should also be noted that the instrument is one of the most expressive and 'emotional' of instruments whether acoustic or electronic and has a 'voice' range of about six octaves.

Invented in 1919 by Russian inventor Leon Theremin, the theremin has a beautiful sound and is one of the world's oldest electronic musical instruments. It is played without touching by moving the right hand near the vertical pitch antenna. The left hand controls the volume by moving it near a horizontal loop antenna. Vibrato is obtained by a quick movements of the wrist of the right hand.

Clara Rockmore
Clara Rockmore was born Clara Reisenberg in Lithuania. With her great musical gifts she was accepted at the Imperial Conservatory of Music in St. Petersburg at the age of five and was touring the concert halls of Europe by the age of nine as a violinist. She met inventor and musician Leon Theremin in New York in 1927 where they were both playing the recital circuit.

Seeing the beauty in the instrument Clara studied under Theremin. With her perfect ear for pitch they worked together and perfected the theremin into a versatile instrument and Clara became Theremin's lifelong student and romantic interest. She toured America coast-to-coast three times playing theremin while accompanied by her sister Nadia on piano.

Clara Rockmore's ear and perfect pitch are a wonder to watch and listen to. She has the unique ability to flawlessly play fast stucatto notes with subtle and very rapid finger movements in addition to the more traditional fluid sounds normally accociated with the instrument. This style of stucatto playing, called aerial fingering, allowed Clara to play so quickly that she could make corrections to the sound before the audience heard it. When watching her play it would appear that she was in some kind of trance since moving the body affects the pitch. Clara could stand motionless for hours with just her hands and fingers moving as she played. An example of this style of "Classical Theremin" is available.

When Hollywood discovered that the theremin could be used as sound effects it soon become a musical oddity and so Clara Rockmore stopped performing. Movies like The Day the Earth Stood Still used a theremin to create "spooky atmosphere" music.

After Theremin's abduction by the KGB in the 1940s (visit The Theremin Homepage for details) Clara Rockmore spent years trying to find him in Russia. They were eventually reunited in the late 1980s. You can read more about Clara Rockmore on the Clara Rockmore Homepage.

Clara Rockmore died on May 10th, 1998 at age 88, in New York.

Some examples of the Theremin can be heard on:

Read more about the Leon Theremin and his fabulous invention, the theremin on The Thereminc Homepage, hosted by Jason Barille. Back to Top