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.