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Alex Shaffer is a dedicated amateur musician -- originally from New Orleans -- whose first instrument was clarinet. After settling in St. Louis, he developed a fondness for Baroque music. And, after hearing early recordings of historically informed performances on original instruments and appreciating the significance of the early music revolution, he made the leap to recorder and traverso in the 1980's. He then pursued his Baroque musical development through private lessons. The gift from his parents of an old (already built) Zuckermann Concert II allowed him to have a very active music scene in his house, along with other instrumentalists and singers. Interest in the Baroque oboe also led to attendance at Baroque workshops hosted by the San Francisco Early Music Society, Oberlin, Longy and Early Music Vancouver. Alex has long been intensely involved in the St. Louis early music scene, performing on traverso, recorder and oboe with several local professional groups, serving on the board of the Kingsbury Ensemble and organizing concerts.
"I was attracted to the sound of Italian harpsichords that I heard at workshops and thought an Italian might be a great choice for a continuo instrument. In 2000 I bought and constructed a Zuckermann Italian III. I've always enjoyed working with my hands and with tools, and so the experience was great fun. Even though I (still!) don't play keyboard, I threw myself totally into the voicing process, doing my best to empathize with the performer so as not to just wind up with a piece of furniture. I even completely re-voiced the instrument in crow quill at the suggestion of Charlie Metz, a local virtuoso. This little Italian has proved to be a wonderful instrument, much prized for its strong, incisive sound and its ability to be transported so easily. I have been pleased to hear it played often by local groups, including The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and The Kingsbury Ensemble.
"When I heard that the folks at Zuckermann had developed a new model of Italian, the Neapolitan, I was intrigued. I didn't really need a third instrument, but I knew that as a flutist, having a harpsichord that could play at 392 Hz, as well as at 415 and even 440, would be a real plus. Add to that the comfort most harpsichordists feel at not having to adjust to a couple of split keys on the Italian III and I was sold. Well, the Neapolitan has been even more fun to build, especially since by January of 2010 I was retired and could approach it more leisurely. Again it turned out beautifully with about the same effort -- no case to do this time, but lots more molding. And the sound (you never know 'til you're finished) is gorgeous. I describe it as very sweet and bright. Click on the MP3 icon to hear the sound of Alex's Neapolitan:
"This new Neapolitan just had its public performance debut in a festival concert to benefit "The St. Louis Beacon", a local online news publication. Gary Miller, our harpsichordist was ecstatic about the action, vowing to return home and reduce the key dip in his own instrument. We played in a tiny chapel with extremely live acoustics and the audience was delighted with the harpsichord sound. I look forward to performing often with it again."
Gary Miller performing Händel
Hear Alex's Neapolitan: