Weird(ish) Wednesdays: A Girl & Her Theremin

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It’s the greatest love story ever told, probably.

The year is 2013, my senior year of college. Imagine a traditional green Christmas in Hawai’i–a decorated tree inside and bright, verdant forest outdoors. Under the tree lie your usual assortment of presents…except the suspiciously long box from Moog Music.

Discovering the extraterrestrial music of the theremin was a defining moment in my musical lifestyle. And when my parents gifted me with a theremin of my own (named Thoramin Oakenshield, of course), my world changed forever. Now I too can make haunting noises that sound like an early sci-fi soundtrack with literally just a wave of my hand.

(So, yeah, this is the first in a series of posts that document some of my quirkier interests! I may pretend to be a relatively normal lifestyle blogger, but I’m into all kinds of just-vaguely-strange things–bizarre instruments, the history of fake mermaids, that incredibly odd thing the Superb Bird of Paradise does…and the list goes on! Think of this series like a blogger’s cabinet of curiosities!)

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The phenomenal musical invention known as the theremin joined our earthly plane in the twentieth century, and is celebrated as one of the first true electronic instruments. It was invented by Leon Theremin and played most famously by Clara Rockmore–but you may have encountered it in mid-century sci-fi flicks like The Day the Earth Stood Still. It has a haunting, ethereal screech of a sound, something that I like to imagine a will-o-the-wisp or other eerie being might create.

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A theremin player can manipulate both the pitch and the volume of the sound created by waving her hands. There are no frets or keys, of course, so if you want play a specific note, you rather have to work it out and memorize hand positions at random! Now, I’m no theremin master: but after a few years of practicing, I can almost do a bit of a scale.

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I don’t really use my theremin for “traditional” music, though: it’s more fun just to hang out in my apartment (with HEADPHONES on, of course!) and see how much of a UFO-landing-signal sound I can make. Plus, the hand movements required to play a theremin are very similar to the exercises my occupational therapist recommended for my carpal tunnel–if only insurance could cover theremin therapy!

Have you ever heard (or even heard of) a theremin before? What’s one unusual instrument that you’d love to play someday?

5 thoughts on “Weird(ish) Wednesdays: A Girl & Her Theremin

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