Theremin Performance Updates

This page started with material cut from the “How I Fell In Love With The Theremin” page — then, as more performances and adventures came up, I decided to keep this as a “journal” page chronologically regaling my theremin escapades.

Index
 12/11/95 Stan Kann, Founders Church, NANM, TECI
 12/29/95 Melodia Mishap, Dr. Alan Polsky
 3/7/96 Ojai Film Society
 3/20/96 Fais-Do-Do, Etherwave Arrives
 3/27/96 40th Birthday, Big Time Jubilee Confirmed
 4/1/96  First Professional Gig, “Ni puha, ni pera”
 4/20/96 Big Time Jubilee
 4/21/96 Lewis Metropolitan C.M.E. Church
 5/22/96 Fais-Do-Do Déja-vu
 9/6/96 Celeste Bembry, Stan Kann, Bob Ralston, ATOS,
 Hollywood R.S. Church, Dr. Samuel Hoffman,
 Vintage Theremin Arrives
 12-2-96 Holy Trinity Fall Musical
 12-21-96 NANM, 91-A Mishap
 5/9/97 More Updates (several months' worth in one big chunk)
 6/14/97 First International Theremin Festival, Portland, Maine
 6/20/97 Appearance on Good Morning, America
 6/21/97 Thereminizing for my Parents’ 50th Anniversary
 6/21/97 Homecoming Recital on Gwynns Island, Virginia
 7/19/97 Theremin Jam: Mass-landings of Theremins invade West Los Angeles 
 7/25/97 The Big Sound Film Series at Los Angeles County Museum of Art
 7/28/97 Write-up in Santa Monica Outlook
 7/28/97 Hula-Theremin at a Los Angeles Luau
 8/3/97 First Theremin Recording Session
 10/19/97 First Formal Recital
 (Future) Upcoming Performances


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12/11/95

Several noteworthy events have occurred since I first wrote my theremin story: I have performed two more times since then: First was at the Founders Church of Religious Science in Los Angeles. One of their organists is the legendary — and aforementioned — Stan Kann, the friend who had given me his old abandoned theremin. He invited me to play there on a Wednesday evening. Well, I did, and performed the following pieces:

Founders’ patrons really enjoyed it! The gave me a standing ovation; requested an encore! So I played an impromptu rendition of “Over the Rainbow.”

My next performance was at a banquet put on by a local chapter of a national music group, the National Association of Negro Musicians (NANM). For that program I played “Largo” by Handel and “Sleep, Holy Child” from the Christmas Cantata Night of Miracles by John W. Peterson. They also requested an encore! So I played Schubert’s “Ave Maria.”

It seems everywhere I play, I get additional requests. Several great things have come of my first performance at Founders, but it is too premature to discuss just yet! And at the performance yesterday, a woman came up and introduced herself as a music professor at a college near Los Angeles. She asked me if I would be interested in coming to the college to play. Would I! I am grateful to accept any invitations to play, as each one builds my confidence and ability —- and, in time, I will feel competent to play professionally. Meanwhile, I’ll keep on practicing and getting a real thrill out of the reaction this wonderful musical instrument elicits from its listeners and observers!

I have met some local members of the Theremin Enthusiasts Club International , including Mr. Steve Grumette, a member of the TECI — whom I met at my last performance at Founders. He invited me to come to Ojai in March and play a theremin concert for the Ojai Film Society’s screening of the theremin documentary. I am very excited about that! And I am making some great new "Theremaniac" friends. That is the best part of all, having new acquaintances with whom I can share my passion of — and obsession for — the THEREMIN.



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12/29/95

Well, my next performance at Founders, which was originally slated for December 12, has been postponed a couple of times due to various scheduling conflicts. I am going to play there January 3, but that almost did not happen. Read on:

This Christmas season, while wonderful in many ways, has also been a very frustrating time for me. I have had tremendous computer traumas, to the extent that after spending two weeks trying to resurrect a crashed hard drive, I had to buy a new one — and spend another week putting all the pieces together and reloading software. Friday evening I was really frazzled and decided I needed a break from all that — when I realized I was about two eye twitches from tossing the whole shooting match out into the front yard I knew I had better do something to relax.

I decided to get my theremin out and practice. I had been so busy with computer woes that I had not touched the Theremin since playing Christmas Eve. It was still packed in the box. I thought that would be a nice way to relax and unwind a little.

I set it up and turned it on. I was incomprehensibly dismayed to find that it was malfunctioning. As I drew my hand toward the volume antenna, it would make a horrendous growling racket rather than softening the tone. That was a mean blow to me, as I really needed some theremin therapy (!). Rather than have a nice time unwinding with the ethereal tones, I stayed up nearly all night trying to get it to work, to no avail.

Saturday I talked to Mark Segal, a local theremin builder and performer who is also quite an electronics whiz. He came by and fiddled with it a little. He said he needed scopes and tools to really diagnose it, so I very reluctantly let him take it with him to his work bench. It was not that I thought he wouldn’t bring it back! It’s just that I have become quite attached to it and was sad that he was taking it away.

Mark called later and said was able to improve on the tone quality but there is still a problem, so it looks like I am going to have to send it to Robert Moog for more comprehensive repair.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch ... some of you may have met Dr. Alan Polsky, a resident of Rancho Palos Verdes, south of Los Angeles. He was a member of TECI. In addition to playing the theremin, he also played the recorder and several wind instruments. I met him in person the night I played at Founders. He had driven all the way up to L.A. (nearly an hour drive) to hear me play, and introduced himself afterward. His wife, Louise, was with him also. He looked at my theremin and told me he had one exactly like it, a Moog Melodia. He invited me to come out and see it, and he said he was looking forward to participating in the Theremin jam session I was planning to host.

After that, we initiated a nice email correspondence and I was starting to get to know — and admire — this man.

I finally got my computer up and running a few days before Christmas.

I checked my email. Among other messages was a note from Karen Polsky, Alan’s daughter. She was letting me know that her father had passed away very suddenly on December 19. This was quite a shock to me — and, needless to say, to his family — because I had just talked to him a couple of days prior. After playing phone tag, I was finally able to talk to her and Louise to express my sadness and condolences.

Cut to the chase —- When I realized my theremin was broken and that meant I probably was not going to be able to play January 3rd, I started thinking about Alan, and the fact that his theremin was identical to mine. I wondered if I should call his family to see if I could borrow it. This seemed a little unseemly and crass to me, and perhaps just a little tactless under the circumstances. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt compelled to ask. Somehow, it seemed to me Alan would have liked that.

So, after sleeping on it, and soliciting advice from a friend, I decided to call the Polskys.

Karen answered the phone. I took a deep breath and explained my plight. I concluded with, “This may be a very inappropriate request, but do you think it might be possible for me to borrow Alan’s theremin so I can play Wednesday?” She said, without hesitation, “I am sure that would not be a problem, but let me check with my mother.” She came back to the phone and said it would be fine. I got directions to their house and made arrangements to meet them there.

Friday morning I drove down to Rancho Palos Verdes and met Karen, and re-acquainted myself with Louise. Their lovely home is filled with wonderful musical instruments and artistic appointments. I was overwhelmed by the countless number and variety of Nativity scenes decorating their house for Christmas. Louise told me that one of Alan’s passions was collecting them, that he had accumulated them from all over the world.

We hooked up the theremin and I gave an impromptu, if rather sour-tuned, rendition of “Ave Maria.” I played it a_cappella which is extremely difficult to do. But they kindly indulged me and, I think, received a small measure of solace from the beautiful melody. We talked a while about Alan, about the theremin, about life and death, and about things spiritual. It was a lovely visit, the circumstances notwithstanding. Before I departed, I thanked them again for their selfless act of kindness. Louise said she was glad to do it, and knew that Alan would have wanted it that way. As I was leaving, she gave me a copy of his obituary , which I have placed as a special page on my website as a token of my appreciation to that kind and gentle man, and to his sweet and sensitive wife and daughter.

I am profoundly grateful to them for their kindness and willingness to help me, and have decided to dedicate my next performance to Dr. Polsky.

I am planning to play:


Ever onward and upward...



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3/7/96

My performance for the Ojai Film Society was this past weekend. We had a capacity house for the Martin documentary and my accompanying recital. For more details and to see some photos of my performance, check out “Ojai Film Society’s Theremin Festival.”



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3/20/96

Played the theremin tonight in a showcase here in Hollywood; won first prize, and was approached afterward by a producer who does a local live variety show, very critically acclaimed, called “The Big Time Jubilee” —- he wants me to do his show!

Got email today from Gail Arendall at Big Briar; she said my new Etherwave theremin went out Mar.18 so it should be arriving any day now.

My friend Dave Weiner came over today and brought his Etherwave for me to try out. Certainly it is the best and most authentic s.s. version to date! Still not the RCA but darn close, and very pleasant to play. I really do want to have a tube theremin...

Meanwhile the Etherwave will be a lovely substitute. A friend of a friend is a cabinet maker, I am gonna see how much he will charge to build me an RCA-style case for it. Won’t that be nice!



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3/27/56

Well, other than today being my 40th birthday, it held some theremin magic as well! I have just confirmed with Barry Salzman, the producer of the “Big Time Jubilee,” that I will appear in his show April 20th. I’m very thrilled about this, of course!



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4/1/96

MY FIRST PROFESSIONAL* THEREMIN GIG!

( * e.g., "paying" ...!)

The performance was at Trinity Baptist Church in Santa Monica, California. A friend of mine, Mr. Harvey Smoller, tunes and services their pipe organ. He heard that an organist from England, Mr. Paul Roberts, had been engaged to play a concert there. It just so happens that Harvey and Paul are friends.

Well, Mr. Smoller got the great idea of having me come along and play the theremin as part of Mr. Roberts’ performance. Mr. Roberts consented, even though he had never seen — nor heard of — a theremin.

When Mr. Smoller had first invited me to play, well over a month ago, he said that Mr. Roberts, who plays both classical or church organ as well as “pop” or theatre organ, would be presenting a classical program on the church’s organ, even though it is a Wurlitzer organ originally built for a movie theatre.

So, the pieces I selected — and rehearsed — were classical or “religious” —

This is a half-hour or so of music, about what was indicated would be my part of the two-hour concert.

(Oh, and by the way, this performance would mark the first public use of my new Moog Etherwave theremin — with which I am quite pleased. Although I still would really like to find an original instrument somehow!

Mr. Roberts was coming to Los Angeles via Australia, as part of an international concert tour, and would not be arriving here until March 30th, the Saturday before the performance on April 1st.

Because of my heavy Palm Sunday weekend schedule (I am also a church organist, for those who didn’t know that), we were not able to get together to rehearse until Monday, the day of the performance.

When Mr. Roberts arrived in Los Angeles Saturday, we had a telephonic meeting. He informed me — to my great surprise — that he was, after all, playing a theatre, not classical organ concert! However, he thought most of the pieces I had chosen these would be alright as they would provide a foil for the lighter music of the rest of the program, but he vetoed the Boellman.

When I got to the church Monday afternoon, we worked on “Londonderry Air” and the theme from “Somewhere in Time” instead of the more classical pieces I had originally selected. The others just didn’t seem to be working out for one reason or another.

After we rehearsed and broke for dinner, I was feeling a little nervous about the change in program. But then I thought back to the phone call I had had earlier in the day with Clara Rockmore. As I always do when I play, I had called her that morning, telling her about the upcoming concert. She said, “I know you are going to play beautifully, and to make sure you do I want to give you a special Russian blessing that is very magical.” She said (spelled phonetically in English) “Ni puha, ni pera.” She told me that it is a very powerful and magical blessing for one person to tell another. When she and her sister (Nadia Reisenberg) would play concerts together they always gave each other that blessing. When Miss Reisenberg was not with her and Mrs. Rockmore played concerts alone, she said the blessing to herself if no one else said it to her. So she gave me this special wish for a wonderful performance!

As I sat waiting to play, that magical wish came to me again. It made me feel very good, and very calm. By the time I got up to play, after the intermission, I felt secure and confident.

When Mr. Roberts introduced me, he commented “I have been playing instruments a long time, and also represent other instrumentalists. I really thought I had seen it all. But this afternoon, at two o’clock p.m., I saw this musical instrument, the theremin, for the very first time. And I must say it is quite charming and unusual. Since I know absolutely nothing about it, I shall leave it up to Mr. Lester to explain to you how it works.”

I came up and introduced myself by saying, “I would like to thank Mr. Roberts for so graciously sharing his concert with me. When we first talked about doing this, he seemed a little reluctant; after our rehearsal today he seemed even more reluctant!” (appreciative titter from the audience). “Well, we thought it would be a fun April Fool surprise to have this strange and wonderful instrument here for you tonight. However, it seems ~I~ am the April Fool and the joke has been played on me, as all the pieces I was to have played were changed at the last minute ... but we’ll muddle through somehow.” (appreciative empathy from audience!)

Then I gave a brief history and explanation of the theremin, and we proceeded to play.

And as I played, Mrs. Rockmore’s voice yet again echoed in my mind, “Nipuha, nipera” —- and her magic blessing worked!

After the program, quite a swarm of curious concertgoers came up to get a closer look at the the theremin and give it a test-run. I was detained for nearly an hour afterward. What fun that was!

Thanks, Mrs. R. ...



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4/20/96

Tonight I was the headliner for the “BIG TIME JUBILEE,” a live variety show in Hollywood.

The MC chirped a bubbly, Vegas-like intro, “And now, let’s give a warm welcome for Thereminist Extraordinaire, CHARLIEEEEE LESTER!”

I come out on stage to wild cheers, foot stomping, whistles.

I began the piece, not quite ready for the vigorous and noisy reception my performance elicited.! However, being the paragon of unflappability that I am, I played through the distractions to a triumphant finale, and bowed nicely to the enthusiastic applause.

Piece #2, “Over the Rainbow,” went pretty much the same way, eliciting pretty much the same effusive reaction from the young and excited crowd.



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4/21/96

Today I played at the Lewis Metropolitan C.M.E. Church in South Los Angeles. The occasion was a memorial service honoring members of the “Willing Workers” group of that church who have passed on to their greater glory.

The program featured a variety of music ranging from classics such as Schubert’s “Ave Maria” tenderly sung by a well-seasoned baritone, to some very lively contemporary music by a community gospel chorus. And there was even some theremin music!

I played two pieces, both a cappella — another milestone! I am getting comfortable enough with the instrument, and secure enough in pitch, that I can play unaccompanied and stay in tune. I played two gospel standards, Andrae Crouch’s “My Tribute” and Thomas A. Dorsey’s “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.”

Afterward, the hostess told me she, and in fact the entire congregation, was spellbound (! her exact word!!) by the lovely and ethereal tone of the instrument and my playing of it. She expressed very profuse appreciation and admiration and hoped I could come again and play for them. And at the reception many people came up to express their delight and amazement; and of course there were quite a few who wanted to know all about the instrument and how it was played.

This was the kind of musical experience I hope to continue having the privilege of participating in!



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5/22/96

This was my second appearance at the Fais Do-Do, a fun-n-funky jazz club and restaurant on West Adams Boulevard in Los Angeles. Excellent Creole cuisine, very reasonably priced, and an open-mike free-for-all every Wednesday, produced by Bill Bingham of Chopping Block. For all you performers out there who want another venue to display your talents, just show up at the club any Wednesday night and identify yourself as a performer. You pay a dollar, which goes into the prize kitty to be awarded at the end of the evening.

I played “Those Were the Days,” with a marvelous orchestrated backup; and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from the musical Carousel. Both pieces were well received. This particular evening’s lineup featured an abundance of comedians. And a most spectacular performance was tendered by a geriatric contortionist: a sweet grannie-type who twisted her body into positions that made me go “OUCH!” just watching ... never mind trying!



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9/6/96

Gee, has it been four months since I posted an update here? My, how time flies! In the intervening time I have played three engagements, one for my friend Celeste Bembrey’s debut concert (she’s a gorgeous soprano) at a church in Los Angeles. I played three pieces — “The Swan,” “Vocalise” (Rachmaninoff) and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from the musical Carousel.

Then in early July I participated in a concert featuring Stan Kann and Bob Ralston at Founders Church in Los Angeles. This concert was in conjunction with the annual convention of the American Theater Organ Society which was held this year in Southern California. I played “Those Were The Days” and “Somewhere in Time,” then at the end we all indulged in a songfest of “Beer Barrel Polka” — Stan on the Wurlitzer, Bob on his magical Yamaha Synth, me on the theremin, and everyone else singing. Toward the end, Bob and Paula Sworney (a soprano also featured on the program) decided to dance the polka — a nice trick to keep in tune as they polka-ed across the stage and right into the playing sphere of my theremin! But it was fun and the concert was a big success. Here’s a group shot of the four of us — left to right: Me; Bob Ralston; Stan Kann; Karen Yarmat.




A couple of weeks later I played the theremin, with Stan Kann accompanying, at the Hollywood Church of Religious Science where he is the regular Sunday organist. They have a fund-drive going to raise money for a new organ; this concert was a part of that fund-raising activity. It was a nice program and well attended.

Two great things that have happened, theremin-wise, were my “close encounter” with the very theremin of Dr. Samuel Hoffman — see Dr. Samuel Hoffman’s Theremin for a vivid accounting of that magical evening as well as some photographs.

And I am thrilled to report that my 1930s-vintage tube theremin has arrived. Details are available at My 1937-Vintage Custom-Made Theremin. [note of 12/1/96 — this saga has since had a few plot twists ... tune in to this page for all the dramatic details! —crl]



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12/2/96

I played the theremin again at Holy Trinity’s annual fall musical which took place on November 17. I played two pieces, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel and the Rachmaninoff “Vocalise.” We had a capacity audience for this concert and it was my debut performance on my new Big Briar 91-A theremin. The audience was most enthused and, as usual, quite a few curious folk came up afterward to see and try the theremin.



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12/21/96

I participated in a special musical program sponsored by the Edna Hammett Porter branch of the NANM (National Association of Negro Musicians). The concert took place in the auditorium (not the sanctuary). I played what is becoming one of my “chestnuts,” the Rachmaninoff “Vocalise,” then started into a medley of Christmas carols ... when, what to my wondering ears should appear: But a crackling speaker and eight tiny “oh, dear’s...” Yup. The theremin started acting up. It made a some static-y sounds then fizzled out to silence. What could I do?! I just stood there a moment then said, “Well, it appears my theremin is having a temper tantrum tonight!” Disappointed laughter greeted the statement. I tried turning it on and off a couple of times ... Nothing.

When I got home I checked it out and discovered the problem was in the Sherwood amplifier, not the theremin, thank goodness. The 91 was just fine. But now I have to take my amplifier to my friend Irv for him to have a look-at...


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5/9/97

Well ... that I have not updated this page in over five months tells me I’m gonna have to stop trying to keep up with these update postings. I just don’t have time to keep listing all the wonderful theremin-related events I am experiencing!

Since I last posted, I played at another of Celeste Bembry’s concerts, held at Holy Trinity Lutheran in Inglewood.

Then I had a really great gig in late January (’97), playing the theremin for a private benefit for the Crippled Children’s Society at “ENCOUNTER” Restaurant in Los Angeles, located in the landmark “Theme” building at Los Angeles International Airport.

If you’ve seen any movies that take place in L.A. they nearly always include an “establishing shot” of this restaurant. It’s the dome-shaped building with the dramatic arches that give it a sort of spider-like appearance. It had been closed for a few years and has been remodeled and reopened. Eric Sotto of Disney Imagineering did the interior design and it is absolutely incredible! The epitome of late 1950s - early 1960s pop culture —- literally the Jetsons come to life!

I was particualarly amused by the space-controlled fawcetts in the men’s room! You wave your hand under the spigot and the water flows. Remove your hand, and it stops. I do not know if the “facilities” are equally responsive as I, ah, well, did not have to (gee, this is really tacky!) relieve myself that night.

Anyway...There were TWO thereminists at this affair — Ross Marshall had his Big Briar 91A set up in the main lower lobby to serenade people as they first arrived, then I was upstairs in the restaurant itself, in a great spot right in the center of the dining room on an elevated alcove.

I played music before and during dinner; then toward the end of the evening there was a special presentation made, of a ice sculpture in the shape of the restaurant. I provided a space-age fanfare, courtesy of my Big Briar 91 and a digital delay pedal (thanks, Westdave!). This pedal does some MARVELLOUS things with the theremin!

Oh, just before that, when Eric Sotto was making his presentation, a slip of paper was handed to him. He read it, paused, then said soberly: “Ladies and gentlemen, the F.A.A. has just advised us that an unidentified craft has entered LAX’s airspace. ... Please remain calm. Do not panic. ... Oh my God! The UFO IS RIGHT OVER THE RESTAURANT!” Then some eerie music swelled up and strobelights all around the restaurant started flashing. It was just too fun! After that, the new $1,000,000 digital EXTERIOR lighting system was unveiled. The restaurant, actually white in color, now ever-shifts in color — blue, green, purple, red, orange, and so on —- so that every time you fly into LAX the building will appear to be a different color! This is very spectacular and dramatic, and the unveiling of the new lighting even made the local evening news!

The theremin was a big hit! Many people there (a mix of Disney staff, friends of the C.C.S., and LAX employees) had heard of the theremin before but never seen one in person. I kept an intrigued crowd all evening.

This was truly a fun and memorable evening and I have my new friend Ross Marshall to thank for the gig, as he was the one who invited me to come along!
 


 

In early February I played the theremin for an art opening at the Gascon Theater Center in Culver City, California. This was a really splendid evening, and very well attended.
 


 

On February 23, 1997, I played theremin atTrici Venola’s art exhibition at the Los Angeles Theater Center.

Trici is a brilliant and innovative artist. Words escape me when trying to adequately describe her unique and inspiring work. To give you a very pale glimpse into her mind, check out her website at Trici’s website.
 


 

In March, I played at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, for their “Bach Birthday Bash” on J.S. Bach’s birthday (3/21). This was a really excellent and diverse program.

Of course the “star” of the program was the Cathedral’s recently acquired AEolian-Skinner organ, ably transplanted and finely installed in the Arboretum by Guy Henderson. What a warm, velvety instrument this is!

At the conclusion, we sang “HAPPY BIRTHDAY DEAR BAAA-ACH, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOUUUUUUU!” with Dr. Swann at the mighty AE-S, and then had birthday cake and ice cream.

There was a capacity crowd, despite the “Glory of Easter” going full-tilt next door, and the audience was most attentive and appreciative throughout.
 


 

In late March I played the theremin at a political fundraiser for a woman who was running for Inglewood, California School Board. Unfortunately, she didn’t get elected. Wonder if that theremin music scared people away...?!



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6/97

First International Theremin Festival

In June of 1996 I was among an elite corps of thereminists, theremin historians and theremin enthusiasts who participated in the First International Theremin Festival in Portland, Maine. I have a whole page devoted to that marvelous event: Theremin Festival Page.
 

First National TV Appearance

As a result of being involved with the Theremin Festival, I was invited to appear on Good Morning America. Throughout the week, a crew from the show had been on hand to memorialize the unfolding drama of this first and unique festival. They tried their hardest to stay out the way but were not always successful; indeed, there were times when their presence was obtrusive and frustrating. But we all understood and appreciated the importance of the publicity and P.R. so we did our best to accommodate them for the greater good of the Festival.

Thursday afternoon, the producer of the show called Olivia Mattis and said they wanted to have a thereminist come down to New York City and appear live on the show Friday morning. Largely as the result of my being at the right place at the right time, I was the one who was invited. Lydia Kavina was a little concerned about my going to do the show and expressed some reticence, owing to the upcoming concert Friday night, at which I was also going to play. But after assurances from the show's producer that they would get me back in plenty of time to rest up and rehearse, she reluctantly consented. The show’s staff pre-arranged all my travel and hotel accommodations. All I had to do was get there. Which was not as easy as it sounded.

Indeed,getting there in time proved to be quite a challenge. I had less than an hour to scurry around the conservatory and throw together a portable theremin (no way was the 91 going to make it at such short notice ... thanks, Bob Moog and Mark Segal, for helping!); then rush over to my room at Portland Hall to literally dump a bunch of stuff into a suitcase, then drive like mad (thanks, Mr. Mattis, chauffeur extraordinare!) to the airport. I literally ended up running down the tarmac after a VERY TINY propellor-powered air-shuttle that was just about to take off. But I did make in time and rather nervously got on this miniature plane. It flew us to Pittsburgh where I took a connecting flight to New York.

I arrived in Manhattan late Thursday evening and took a cab from the airport to the luxurious Empire Hotel, where I enjoyed a late-night dinner and a most relaxing and calming [but very short] night’s sleep, then was up at the crack of dawn to be whisked to Tavern on the Green in Central Park for the show.

Here are some shots from my appearance on the show. (The folks in the third picture are host Joel Siegel, guest host Elizabeth Vargas, and guest sports announcer Charlie Griffith.)

The whole thing happened so fast that there was no time to get nervous or belabor the fact that I would be appearing on live television before millions of viewers nationwide! I got there, did the show, and then flew right back to Portland as soon as the segment was completed. Well, sort of...:

There was a tiny unforeseen problem in getting out of Newark, where I was flying out of: The airport experienced a total and complete power blackout! There was no electricity at all. Utter pandemonium and chaos were ensuing. It was literally like being in a bad end-of-the-world movie. Customers were screaming at clerks. Clerks were screaming back at them. Babies were screaming at no one in particular but rather in protest of the stultifyingly humid and hot air inside the airport terminal.

This mean no planes were leaving, either. It also meant that all the computers were down.

Eventually, auxiliary power came on and the airport computers came back to life. After standing in line for about two hours, I finally made it to the counter to check in. Slight snag: They had no record of my reservation.

I started making frantic phone calls to try and figure out how I was going to get back to Portland. I called Olivia. I called Good Morning America. They assured me they had made the reservation but somehow it had not gotten processed. But they got on the phone with the airline and finally got everything ironed out.

All this delay meant I had absolutely no time to rehearse for the concert Friday night, much less any time to rest and relax, and mentally prepare. By the time I got over to the high school auditorium I was an absolute basket-case. How I managed to play a single note, I’ll never know. I was absolutely running on pure adrenalin by that point. Much of that evening is just a blur. I have vague recollections of getting there and setting up my theremin, which had mysteriously materialized there for me. Thanks, to whomever the guardian angel was who got it over there for me. I also remember being backstage with Lydia and her assuring me everything would go fine. I wished her Nipuha, Nipera which made her smile.

I also remember receiving a sublime, exquisite aromatherapy treatment and foot massage from Nicoletta Stephanz who sensed the acute state I was in and offered to help. I can never express just how much her tender ministrations did to unwind and unnerve me. Apparently, Field Sound, Lydia’s composition that I performed along with Dave Miller, Lydia, and Andrew Ptak, went well. At least, we all ended together...

I had to miss the last, and in some ways, most exciting day of the Festival, Saturday, as I had to leave early Saturday morning to attend my parents’ 50th anniversary celebration. (See below.)

A bittersweet postscript to the story of my [first] trip to Manhattan: As the cab was whisking me to the airport, I suddenly realized that we were on the street where Clara Rockmore lives. We drove right by her front door. I wanted so badly to stop the cab and run in to say hello but resisted the urge, not knowing how she would receive such an unexpected visitor. I merely blew a kiss in her direction, swallowed the lump in my throat, and settled back into the taxicab’s seat. I have since wondered if by some chance she had tuned in that morning to Good Morning, America but I suppose I’ll never know one way or the other...

Parent’s Golden Anniversary

After the Theremin Festival, it was off to Newport News, Virginia for my parents’ 50th anniversary celebration. I was scheduled to play the theremin for the celebration festivities; however, a huge mixup in flights got me down there too late for that, so instead I played the next morning for their church service, with my brother, Dr. Noel Lester, accompanying me on the piano. We played Handel’s Largo.
 

Recital on Gwynns Island, Virginia

While I was visiting my parents, we drove to Gwynns Island, Virginia, where my family lived when I was ages 9 to 15. The members of Gwynns Island Baptist Church, where my father had been the pastor at one time, hosted a covered-dish luncheon for us, then afterward I presented a theremin recital there.

I had not been back to Gwynns Island for at least 25 years. Many of the people I saw that day had not seen me since I was a teenager. We had a most heart-warming reunion and touching reunion, with lots of great food and music. Living there in my youth, I did not really appreciate the serene and quiet beauty of the Island. But going back as an adult, I was presented anew with exquisite, sublime settings on that beautiful little Island. It was truly a wonderful and magial day.

Here are some photos and mementos from that memorable trip back to my childhood:


Photo by
Wes Pulley



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7/97

Los Angeles Theremin Jam

Theremin Jam I (another soon to come!) was held the front yard of Dave Weiner’s house in West Los Angeles. I have devoted a separate page to that event: Los Angeles Theremin Jam I
 

The Big Sound at LACMA

Los Angeles County Museum of Art presents an ongoing film series, focusing on various aspects of the film industry. The Big Sound explored sound in a variety of formats; the evening I appeared there the topic was electronic music in film. A double-feature presentat ion of Forbidden Planet and Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey was separated by an intermission then a brief demonstration and recital on the theremin. Appearing with me was Gary Hoffman, son of venerated Hollywood thereminist Dr. Samuel Hoffman.

In attendance that evening was Bebe Barron who, with her husband Louis, created the unique and thrilling soundtrack for Forbidden Planet. The capacity audience (about 500) was receptive and interested; and as usual, a crowd gathered around the theremin afterward for closer inspection, to satisfy themselves that there are no hidden wires or controls!
 

Writeup in Santa Monica Outlook

As a result of the Los Angeles Theremin Jam, a very comprehensive article about me appeared in the city newspaper for Santa Monica, California, The Outlook. A photo from that article appears in my Theremin Gallery.
 

Hula-Theremin at a Los Angles Luau

Yes, you read correctly! I was hired to play the theremin for a private party in Santa Monica , the theme of which was “Hawaiian Luau.”

Here are some snapshots from that very fun and unique evening, courtesy of the hostess Christine Ackel:



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8/3/97

First Recording Session

I got a call in late July from an independent record producer who wanted to use the theremin on one song for an upcoming CD. So I went out to a recording studio in West Los Angeles and did the track. The song is called “New Leaves” featuring lead vocalist, with instrumental combo including vocal backups, guitar, bass guitar, keyboards, drums, and theremin.

This was a very interesting experience and really opened my eyes to the marvel of modern, state-of-the-art recording technology. I had envisioned a session in a large studio with all the musicians present. Well, it was not that way at all. No one was there but the producer/recording engineer, the lead singer, and myself. All the other tracks had already been recorded and mixed, and I added the theremin part by playing along with a playback of the other tracks. This made the entire process much simpler and we had the thing done in about three hours --- what would otherwise have taken days to acccomplish.

The theremin part was not written out but we pretty much made it up as we went along, with input from all three of us. So the end-result is a very free-form, improvised theremin line that really came out great!



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10/19/97

First Formal Recital

I presented my first formal theremin recital at the Church of Christian Fellowship in Los Angeles with pianist Evelyn Freeman. The hour-long program, featuring a variety of music from Bach to Ellington, was followed by a theremin demonstration.

[Note: I just realized I had left out two other engagements, but am too lazy to put them chronologically where they appear! In August I played for the “Summer Faire” at the Angeles Mesa Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles; and in early September I played again at my own church, Holy Trinity ELC, for an afternoon musicale sponsored by the E.H.Porter branch of the National Association of Negro Musicians.]



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Upcoming Performances

If you’d like to read about my upcoming performances, here’s the place. If you do come hear me play please do be sure to come up and introduce yourself. I’d be thrilled to know there are fellow theremin enthusiasts at my concerts!



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