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Building a House for Organ and Harpsichord
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

John Bradfield plays the organ in his spare time. He also plays his harpsichord and grand piano, and his keyboard at the office. Since he and his wife Barbara moved into their new home three years ago, John has often found himself sitting in front of his tracker organ in the music room. Designed specifically for the organ, the room bears a 23-foot ceiling to accommodate 17-foot pipes and non-parallel walls to control reverberation of sound. Seating capacity is about 40 people on the floor and eight in the balcony, where suspended triple tiered ceiling lights add visual architectural interest.

Upon entering the room, visitors are greeted with an ambience of embracing spaciousness coming from the undulating wood walls and the interrupted landscape seen in the ceiling to floor stacks of windows in the corners of the room. Here the organ is the focal point with the white oak wood flooring and simple contour contemporary furnishings complementing the organ, which, by the way, has a keyboard of brown wood keys and ivory accidentals. To the right of the organ, a set of double doors opens into the music library, a cozy room under the staircase to the balcony.

?It?s acoustically engineered to avoid high reverberations. And I think its highly successful that way,? said Frank Welch, the architect for the house. In designing the music room, Welch followed the guidelines recommended by acoustician, Scott Riedel, who suggested the non-parallel walls?achieved with wood panels juxtaposed at angles. Access to the room is near the back wall through a set of double doors off a long spacious corridor.

?It (the music) goes all through the house,? said Barbara. ?It goes right down the spine. So when I?m in the kitchen, I can hear.? The kitchen is located at the opposite end of the house overlooking the breakfast area and the lake in the distance. And the corridor, while providing an architectural avenue between the music room and the kitchen, is flanked on the front by the study, dining room, kitchen, and breakfast area and on the back by the den and outdoor swimming pool.

To see the house and hear the acoustics, plan to attend The Spanish Harpsichord?Home & Garden Series?Lake Concerts, sponsored by the Orchestra of New Spain, with Linton Powell, University of Texas professor who is a specialist in Late Renaissance and Baroque Spanish keyboard music. Powell will perform on the organ and the harpsichord on Tuesday, November 28, 2000 beginning at 6 PM. For more information, check the web site, or call 214-350-1492.

The music room in the Bradfield?s home is unique in being designed for one instrument. Even so, designated music rooms are not frequently found today, except perhaps in homes of musicians, serious music students, or where playing music is an important part of the family life. The trend, these days, is the home theater, a trend that could produce a glut of outdated rooms in just a few years, according to Cole Smith, A.I.A., architect with Smith, Eklblad, & Associates. To counter the possibility of creating an underused home theater room, Smith suggests a design that allows for a broad scope of entertainment possibilities.

?Think big,? said Smith. The room ought to have a little stage, or an all-purpose spring floor with padding for ballet and/or exercise. Add a nice window or skylight for light and an ambience that could extend the life of the room to 50 years or more.

?A good sized room for solo as well as chamber ensembles and high ceiling?this is how basically the old good sounding rooms were built?spacious and high ceilings,? said Arkady Fomin, violinist with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and artistic director of the New Conservatory of Dallas. Fomin designed his teaching studio with an adjoining room to hold a baby grand piano and space for chamber music. French doors between the two rooms are often opened for rehearsal or performance.

?With a harpsichord, it?s lovely to have hardwood floors and a lot of reflecting surfaces,? said James Richmond, artistic director of the Dallas Bach Society. ?You think about the Baroque architecture?a period of marble walls, windows, beautiful wooden parquet floors. The sound bounces around us quite nice that way. You put carpet under it {harpsichord}, you?re likely not to hear it at all, or it?s going to be a lot duller, where as a grand piano?if you have a carpet under it, that?s fine.?

?I would say the 18th century is silk,? Richmond said. ?I would say the 19th century is velvet. It?s kind of darker and more powerful as opposed to grayer and livelier.?

Yet the 18th and 19th centuries witnessed the evolution of the music room?s most staple instrument?the piano, reportedly built in 1720 in Italy by Bartolomeo Cristofori. Invented after the clavichord and harpsichord, the early pianoforte produced a sound even softer than the harpsichord, according to Richmond. But the piano gained size and power until 1860, after which, it remained essentially unchanged as far as the mechanics are concerned.

Since 1857 however, Steinway & Sons has built limited edition art-case pianos that express the decorative side of the instrument. This year, 2000, Steinway & Sons is celebrating 300th birthday anniversary of the piano by issuing the art-case piano, Tricentennial?a shiny black grand (6 feet 2 inches) with gold trim under the keyboard, on the pedals and rollers and across the folding lid. Designed by Dakota Jackson, the Tricentennial could possibly be on the show room as soon as December.

Yet, when purchasing such a piano or any piano, customers should consider the dimensions of the room, in which the piano will be played.

?Roughly, the room should be about four times the size of the piano,? said Amanda Byars, past president Dallas Music Teachers Association and current director of artists and educator relations with Steinway Hall Dallas. An acoustically good room will not have lots of heavy carpet, heavy drapes, or things on the walls to absorb sound.

Many of the larger homes already have excellent acoustics for piano, according to Lorraine Landefeld, co-director of the Suzuki Institute of Dallas, where an open house on November 19 from 2-4 pm will show case their own new, expanded facilities at 212 S. Cottonwood. In one of the rooms, the recital hall, is a grand piano designated for that room to accommodate the dimensions and acoustics for recital performance. In addition, the Suzuki Institute of Dallas, in cooperation with Steinway Hall-Dallas, is embarking on a fundraising mission to convert their piano department to an all-Steinway school with uprights and grand pianos to fit the studios.

The new mountain home of Jo Boatright, artistic director of Voices of Change and pianist in the Walden Piano Quartet, and her husband Harvey retired flutest with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra will feature a room exclusively for live chamber music and accommodations for at least 30-50 people. Designed by Charles G. Woods A.I.A., the room will also have a fireplace and room dimensions to soothe the heart of any music listener?a 28-foot room with a short end (14 feet high and 16 feet wide) and an expansive end (18 feet high and 24 feet wide) where the grand piano will set the stage. An overhead balcony and a bridge across the top of the room will accommodate seating and a walkway to the second-story outdoor deck. Entrance to the ?great room? is through a circuitous route that begins at the front door down a long hall through the dining and kitchen, which also service receptions.

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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