Monday, July 25, 2011

New Friend on Summer Concert Tour: Montreal's Margaret Little

I am spending this month in Montreal, playing with the talented musicians of Matthew White’s ensemble Les Voix Baroques. Lucky me, I am staying with Margaret Little, a Montreal-based viola da gamba player, who is also in this concert and took the time to tell me about her life in early music. Margaret is one-half of the duo Les Voix humaines (, whom anyone who has taken a few minutes to peruse the early music section of a CD store would recognize from their numerous recordings (around 30!).

Margaret grew up in a musical family. Her father was an organist and choral conductor who collaborated with the Montreal Consort of Viols with his choir. When Margaret was only eleven years old, she attended a music camp as a violinist, where she studied viola da gamba with Gian Lyman Silbiger. Margaret fell in love with the viol and its music and returned to Montreal determined to pursue her newfound interest. She saved the money for her first treble viol by teaching guitar lessons. (Remember, she was only eleven!)

Margaret met Susie Napper (the other half of Les Voix humaines) after Susie had moved from San Francisco to Montreal. They both had daughters the same age, so they met so the girls could play together. The moms did, too! This was how a magical, musical friendship through Les Voix humaines was born! Margaret says that their main interest is communicating and expression through their music. Their recording career began with their love of the music of St. Colombe. (Many of you may remember St. Colombe as the father/viol player in the movie Tous les Matins du Monde.) These duos are extremely esoteric, and they spent much time figuring out this complicated music and recorded all 67 of them on four double CD’s. They have a good relationship with their recording label, ATMA, and occasionally ATMA will offer suggestions for recordings or help with long-range plans.

Margaret and Susie spend a lot of time together for each project to try new things out and let the music grow and develop. Now, an important part of their musical life is in making arrangements of music for two viols or viol consort. They hope to make these clever arrangements available to the public! They also collaborate with other artists, such as Wieland and Bart Kuijken, Suzie LeBlanc, and viol players in consort. Les Voix humaines has participated in the Montreal Baroque Festival (see

Initially, they performed concerts in Susie’s home in a series of three to four concerts each year. Susie would cook amazing food to accompany these programs. Later, they moved the series to a church in Montreal. Margaret and Susie obtained an agent in 1994 to give them more opportunities to play. They have traveled all over the world with their music: Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, the U.S., throughout Canada, Israel, Japan, China, England, France, Belgium, Holland, Poland, and the Czech Republic. In the U.S., they have performed in Honolulu, St. Paul, St-Cloud, St-Croix, Tucson, Colorado Springs, Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, New York City, Cambridge, and Boston. They often coordinate these programs with lectures and workshops, often in cooperation with the Viola da Gamba Society of America.

Les Voix humaines has some goals for the future that we can look forward to. This year will feature consort music by Trabaci, as well as their focus on free improvisation. They will record Bach’s “Art of Fugue” and a duo Bach program – Susie’s arrangement of his Italian concerto for two bass viols.

Montreal is an exciting city, where there is so much early music happening. There are approximately twelve early music ensembles or series in this city! Margaret is one of the people who paved the way for this type of environment, and she is investing in its continued success through the collaborative development of a parent organization, Montreal Baroque. They are developing a website with links to performers and groups and a calendar for all early music performances in the city to help avoid planning conflicts for ensembles, but also to publicize concerts. The society may invite groups from abroad, will mentor young groups, and may offer a series for local groups without their own regular series.

Margaret teaches viola da gamba and Baroque ensemble at the University of Montreal. She primarily plays viol, but she also enjoys the Baroque viola and often performs both instruments in one concert. Margaret recorded a CD for unaccompanied viol and has many solo recitals planned with Montreal lute player Sylvain Bergeron. Her favorite music is sacred music with singers, like the Bach Passions or Christmas Oratorio. She commented, “I like being a part of a big group celebration of things spiritual.” Through her investments in making recordings, concerts at home and abroad, teaching privately and at university, ensuring the city’s future in early music with Montreal Baroque, and future musical goals, she is certainly involved in a big group celebration!

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Match Made in Heaven Pt.1

My husband called from work the other day with some bad news. He works for Cincinnati Opera, and the keyboard glockenspiel that they rented for their upcoming production of The Magic Flute arrived broken (see bottom photo). He was at a loss for what to do. I suggested that he call James Campbell in Newport. Few people would ever guess that Newport, Kentucky (just across the river from Cincinnati) is home to one of the best American early keyboard makers. James built Catacoustic’s harpsichord, and he generously keeps it in excellent playing condition. Needless to say, Jim saved the day for the opera by fixing the damaged instrument in less than one day.

James and his wife Nina Key-Campbell (harpsichord player) live in a beautiful historic home surrounded by early keyboard instruments – many of which they crafted together. There are four harpsichords (plus one in process), three clavichords, an organ, and an upright piano. It is a beautiful, amazing sight!

In 1963 Jim was a school teacher in California. He had taken piano and organ lessons, and decided that he wanted a harpsichord. He bought a kit, which was the easiest way to make one at the time. After playing the instrument for a while, he decided that he wanted a larger instrument – a French double manual. Jim went to the LA library to research how to make an instrument without the aid of a kit. In 1973, Jim made his first original instrument in Cincinnati. At that time he was an editor for a religious publishing house, and instrument building was relegated to his spare time.
Several years later, he was inspired to make a small virginals by an instrument that was housed at the Cincinnati Art Museum. This point in life saw Jim working for an engineering firm as a model builder. His next incarnation was as a piano tuner/technician and instrument builder.

Jim and Nina met in 1978 at a concert she gave at Clifton Calvary Church. They began collaborating soon afterwards. Nina apprenticed with Jim to learn piano tuning and was his assistant for instrument making.

Jim made a series of instruments up to 1984. He doesn’t even know where all his instruments are. He made several instruments for Nina and a French double for Northern Kentucky University (still in use). He built 25 keyboard instruments and rebuilt approximately 10.

In 1986, he retired from his keyboard work to be an Episcopal priest and educator in Chicago, Philadelphia, and later southern Kentucky. During that time, he made only one instrument. After he retired from full-time church work, he returned to instrument building and repair by making an instrument for a church in Lexington. Nina assisted him for this project, and they married in March of 2009! It is a match made in heaven!

In June of 2009, he began to take care of the harpsichords at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM). He worked on instruments at the University of Kentucky, the University of Dayton, and the University of Nebraska (Lincoln).

Jim and Nina are constantly looking for new projects to tackle. Last December they reassembled a tracker three stop organ that is currently in their living room (see photo above). Jim is currently making a new instrument for Nina in his shop. “We felt we needed a Flemish harpsichord, since it is the quintessential instrument of the 17th century, and Jim was doing research and wanted to incorporate his ideas into an instrument.”

Jim is not active in seeking commissions, but he wouldn’t say no. He doesn’t want to be rushed during his retirement. Jim compares it to a commercial for a Scottish golf club maker: “The waiting list is five years long, but there are four people ahead of you.” He has no concrete goals for the future, save to enjoy what he does every day. Jim enjoys making instruments for his wife, working on his model railroad, reading, walking, and traveling.

A Match Made in Heaven Pt.2

Nina Key-Campbell grew up in the Pacific Northwest surrounded by music. She started to play piano by ear at the age of four and began formal music lessons in the first grade. She studied organ in college, when Arnold Dolmetsch came to visit her school and brought along a small harpsichord. Nina fell in love with the sound of the instrument and locked herself in the studio with the instrument all day, skipping classes to play. The next year an organ professor arrived at the university who also played the harpsichord, so Nina studied both instruments. She received a Fulbright to study organ and harpsichord in Holland with the great Gustav Leonhardt. Nina took full advantage of this wonderful opportunity, taking many classes with the master – and was able to take three classes a week with him!

When Nina returned to the US, she studied at the University of Illinois with George Hunter and was the first recipient of a Master’s degree in harpsichord performance at the school. She married and moved to Syracuse, NY, where she played often. She had a family (two daughters) and purchased her first harpsichord.

Three years later in 1968, she moved to Cincinnati, where her husband was the first music librarian at CCM. Nina taught piano and performed in Cincinnati. She played with numerous formations of early music ensembles: recorders, cello, violin, and singers. She worked with Ben Bechtel (instrument maker and musician) to develop an early music series. Nina taught keyboard and aural skills at Northern Kentucky University for 22 years and tuned pianos for 10 years. In the 1989, Harold Byers, James and Barbara Lambert, and later Rod Stucky joined Nina to form Apollo’s Cabinet (formerly Baroque Chamber Soloists). They still perform concerts at Christ Church Cathedral, the Taft Museum, and other local concert series.

Nina has many musical goals:
1. A solo recital at Christ Church Cathedral on April 10, 2011 to celebrate the church’s new harpsichord purchase.
2. Nina and Jim love to show their instrument collection through open houses. They had an open house in the Spring for the MacDowell Society and another for advanced placement students at Indian Hill schools. They plan to invite friends and neighbors to see the instruments.
3. Scarlatti Project: Nina is doing an in-depth analysis of Scarlatti sonatas with commentaries. She is working with a statistician from Iowa State to run descriptive statistics of idea sequences. There are 563 total sonatas, and she has done 450 total. She presented a paper on this in Spain and would like to write an article and include this information on a website to be available as a resource for researchers and performers.

Jim and Nina are both involved in a joint meeting of the Southeast Keyboard Society and the Midwestern Historical Keyboard Society in Cincinnati in March of 2012. There will be two competitions: the Alienor Competition for new works and the Jurow Competition for harpsichord performance. Scholars will present papers, concerts will be performed, and instrument builders will bring their instruments to display. This will all take place at CCM! We are so lucky to have energetic and talented forces such as Nina and James here in the Greater Cincinnati region!