Princeton Early Keyboard Center
Program and Philosophy
PEKC Home
       The Princeton Early Keyboard Center was founded to offer lessons in all              
 aspects of Baroque keyboard to anyone who wants or needs them for any reason,             
 and also to offer opportunities or help with anything having to do with Baroque         
 keyboard instruments - outside of or in addition to lessons - to anyone who
 could use such help or opportunities. The approach taken by the Center is based on             
 flexibility, on an emphasis on the use of truly great instruments, and on the            
 belief that all students can learn from the beginning of study - guided by historical
 knowledge and by their own ears - to make artistic judgments and decisions for 
 themselves. 

        The Center does not offer any kind of degree or other formal
 credential. While this could be a disadvantage for students who are 
 at a stage in their careers when they need to pursue such a credential, it also 
 opens the door for the Center to organize its teaching and other work in a way that
 is tailored with remarkable specificity to the needs of each student. For example, if a 
 student has the time and desire to study "full time" at a high level of intensity, then 
 the Center can offer two (or more) long lessons a week, an essentially infinite amount 
 of practice time on a wide variety of instruments, a directed reading and listening program,
 the chance to record and study one's own playing on a regular basis, field trips to instrument 
 collections, the opportunity to work with instrument builders, performance possibilities,
 and  more. In such a way, the Center believes that it can offer such students at least as 
 much depth of learning about the world of Baroque keyboard as they could find anywhere else.

        Students whose interest is equally high, but whose lives suggest that they can only put 
 in a more limited amount of time, can take lessons at the "normal" rate of one a week, or one 
 every other week, or whatever is suitable. Such students will have access to the same type 
 of teaching and the same practice facilities and other opportunities, as they need or want them.
 Students who want to come for only very occasional lessons, because they live far away, 
 or because they have very busy schedules, or because they know themselves to be self-directed
 and need only occasional input from a teacher, are welcome to do so, and of course may also have  
 access to the studios of the Center for practice.

        Furthermore, over the last two years, several musicians have come to PEKC for what might be 
 called consultations: single lessons devoted to one specific area. For example, composers have come 
 to learn enough about the harpsichord to feel comfortable writing for it. Pianists who specialize 
 in accompaniment have come to learn enough about continuo playing to begin incorporating it into
 their work. Aspiring instrument builders have come to encounter ways of thinking about the aesthetics
 of the harpsichord and of Baroque music. All such students are very welcome at the Center.

        The collection of instruments used for teaching at the Center is large and varied. 
 It includes a German double and an Italian single by Keith Hill, a Flemish double by Philip 
 Tyre, two clavichords, one fretted, one a Silbermann style five-octave unfretted, and an 
 Italian Virginal. It also includes three antique instruments: a bentside 
 spinet, made in London in 1731 by Friderick Krickhof, an anonymous Italian
 harpsichord probably from about 1700,and probably made in Rome or Naples, 
 and an anonymous (probably German) clavichord from the early 18th century. All of the instruments 
 at the Center at any one time (they do move in and out from time to time) are fully available to students  
 for practice. Students are also not only allowed but even encouraged (having first become skilled at 
 tuning and maintenance) to participate in the upkeep of the instruments - including the antiques - as 
 part of the learning process. All of the modern instruments have been chosen because they have 
 a truly extraordinary sound: on the one hand, both beautiful and interesting to those who hear 
 it; and on the other hand, similar enough in nature to the best surviving antique instruments to 
 be a useful source of historical understanding as well as listening pleasure. The plucked instruments
 are all set up with wooden jacks, voiced either with quill or with delrin, so the actions are very responsive  
 and sensitive in ways which resemble the actions of antique instruments.

        The idea that students can begin to understand what they are doing artistically from the very 
 beginning of study is related to the idea that the finest instruments are themselves the best teachers.
 As a student works on a given piece of music at the harpsichord or clavichord, whether it is a very 
 simple exercise, a virtuoso repertoire piece or anything else, he or she can learn very promptly to 
 notice what the instrument is doing in response to what he or she is doing with his or her fingers. If, 
 for example, the instrument is one on which the quality of the attack sounds varies depending on the 
 touch, then the student can begin to notice that difference from the very first moment of 
 sitting down at the keyboard. (The way this happens is very simple: the student hits the key hard, 
 and listens to what it sounds like, and then presses the key down gently, and listens to what that 
 sounds like. The difference will be surprisingly clear). If the instrument is one whose sound has some 
 sort of bloom to it - that is, the nature of the sound changes over the life of the note, it does not 
 just die away - then the student can hear the differences in the quality of the sound that come about 
 with different choices of tempo and different types of articulation. If the dampers work in a way that 
 is flexible, then the student can hear the differences in the end of notes that come about with 
 different speeds or types of releases. If the instrument is doing its job in these and other respects, 
 then it actually becomes easy to control expressive details, since it is so clear how the instrument 
 is responding. As soon as a student - or any player - can hear what is actually 
 happening to the sound of an instrument when he or she does different things at the keyboard, then 
 that player is as well equipped as anyone to make choices about how to use that instrument to play 
 music. Teaching at PEKC involves guiding students to hear all of these details, not telling them 
 what choices they should make about how the music should sound. 

        Most students also want to inform themselves as thoroughly as possible as to whatever is known 
 about the historical dimension of the music that they are playing. If the instruments being used are 
 accurate historically, then the artistic choices that those instruments suggest are likely to be 
 historically appropriate: at least they have a good chance of being so. The question of what choices 
 to make from among those suggested by the instruments can often be shaped by knowledge of what the 
 composer would or might have done. A lot of this sort of knowledge is available to us, and of course 
 it is growing all the time. (Though it is rarely as complete or as cut-and-dried as many of us would 
 like it to be. And it is important - and difficult - to distinguish between actual knowledge and accrued 
 tradition about how to interpret such knowledge). The Center can help students to explore known original
 sources of knowledge about music and performance, as an ongoing part of lessons, or through separate 
 tutorials, classes, and directed reading and listening programs.

        As an ongoing accompniment to any program of study based on the above ideas, the Center also 
 offers students help in developing a systematic and efficient way of practicing, so that musical 
 insight and knowledge, and interpretive decisions and ideas can actually be inplemented. Simple but 
 effective methods of practicing can enable anyone to make good progress as a player and performer,
 and make it possible for anyone - even an absolute beginner - to do rewarding and artistically 
 worthwhile playing. The Center is absolutely committed to the idea that anyone who wishes to study 
 harpsichord or clavichord should be encouraged to do so, and should have the right to expect to 
 do great things with it.

        Anyone who wishes to learn more about the Center's program should call (732) 599-0392, or send
 email to pekc@pekc.org
 
by Gavin Black