Savannah Theremin Summit

On a recent visit to Savannah, Georgia, my wife and I visited the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum, which holds a fine collection of ship models, many of them named Savannah, like this one, which was the first steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

ships of the sea maritime museumIf you love ship models, it’s worth a visit.

But even better than the museum was a serendipitous bonus. While there, we saw an ad for the Savannah Theremin Summit, which was occurring on the museum grounds that very evening at 7:00!

And since we had dinner reservations for 8:45, I said, “Let’s go!”

So we returned just before 7:00, paid $5 each, and were lucky to get a seat in the front row. Theremins aren’t that popular in Savannah—or anywhere.

In fact, most people don’t know what a theremin is.

So: Invented by the Russian Leon Themerin, who patented the device in 1928, the theremin is the only musical instrument that is played without touching it. It’s composed of two metal antennas—one horizontal and one vertical—that sense the position of the musician’s hands, and thus control oscillators for frequency and amplitude.

If you think of the Beach Boys hit, Good Vibrations, you’ll recall the eerie electronic noises of a theremin (though that device was actually a Tannerin).

Most theremins these days are built by Moog, the company that became famous for early synthesizer music. Prices range from $319 to $519. But one of the thereminists at Savannah, Philip Neidlinger, built his own, using vacuum tubes! And he played it superbly.

Here’s my video of Philip playing America the Beautiful.

After Philip came Ricardo Ochoa, who played a theremin while Richard Leo Johnson played a custom-made acoustic Martin guitar fitted with an integral theremin—all in an alien design. This one-of-a-kind guitar was on loan from Martin’s museum.

Here’s Richard with the alien hybrid.

richard leo johnson with martian guitarAnd here’s a video of the two musicians.

The last player was Melissa Hagerty, a singer who used her theremin mainly as accompaniment for other recorded pieces. She was at the far end of the stage and I didn’t get any good video.

The musicians played individually, in round robin style, several times, sometimes accompanied by mother nature’s thunder and lightning and rain (though we were outdoors, we were under a roof).

And they promised that after intermission, they would attempt to play together—not an easy feat. For the record, these four musicians comprise the entire theremin-playing community of Savannah.

But we were out of time, so we left for our dinner reservation, where we had a fine time discussing one of the oddest musical performances we’d ever seen.

3 thoughts on “Savannah Theremin Summit

  1. This was altogether one of the most enjoyable and fascinating articles among the many such that you write. Honestly, these are one of the reasons that I adore and respect Cabot more than any of the many other newsletters that I have tried …. and discarded all others long ago. Thanks so much. Li Daniels PS I own 240 shares of Tesla.

  2. This was real serendipidity to come across this marvelous theremin summit and concert . Thank you Timothy for this information – I learned about the existence of Theremin and Tannerin instruments. It is also exciting to learn about Tesla suoperchargers, they are the future of cardrive
    Marguerite Cottenot

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>