The following editorial by ASW director David H. Green appeared in the October, 1998, issue of our customer newsmagazine Chrestologia on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of Antique Sound Workshop. It is presented here for those visitors to our web site who might be interested in how our workshop came into being and what has transpired in the early music business during the past quarter century.
It hardly seems possible, but our small home workshop, founded in 1973 as The Aeolian Workshop and renamed Antique Sound Workshop in 1981, will be twenty-five years old this month! Time certainly has a way of passing much more quickly than any of us would like to realize; the weeks and months have turned into years seemingly behind our backs while we have been preoccupied with the day-to-day detail of operating a small business. Much has changed in the field of early music during the past two and a half decades, however; some for the better, some for the worse, and very little not at all.
In the past issues of our customer newsletter (which in 1986 was renamed Chrestologia in belated recognition of the fact that it had in the interim become a magazine and could no longer rightfully be termed a newsletter) we have devoted many pages and articles to various aspects of early music as a hobby, early music as a profession, early music in education, early music as an art, and early music as a craft. On the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of our workshop, I should like to indulge myself by addressing the topic of early music as a business, a perspective which, although perhaps of only peripheral concern to some early music enthusiasts, is nevertheless one which should be of considerable importance to everyone in the field. This editorial will present some personal reflections and reminiscences about the past two and a half decades of growth and change in the early music business and some random thoughts and observations about the current state of affairs and the role that we at Antique Sound Workshop seek to play therein.
In any retrospective assessment of the recent history of what is rather archly termed by some individuals and journals "historically informed performance practice," it is important to remember that the early music revival movement in the early twentieth century was, at its inception, largely a grassroots amateur activity; that happenstance was at once the source of its greatest strengths and its greatest weaknesses as well. Even as recently as twenty-five years ago, many of the people involved in early music, whether they were players, instrument makers, or dealers, were essentially hobbyists, earning their principal incomes in other, sometimes totally unrelated fields of endeavor. During the past quarter century, however, early music has become many different things to various groups of people within the field and much more specialized, professionalized, politicized, and commercialized in the process, creating new and different sets of strengths and weaknesses.
For many adult amateur musicians, early music performance remains an enjoyable and rewarding avocation, a welcome respite from the rigors and demands of their professional careers. For some still-too-few school children and their teachers, it has become an integral part of the total educational experience, a viable supplement or alternative to traditional modern instrumental and vocal music programs. For an increasing number of professional performers, it is an artistic pursuit of the highest order, requiring years of practice, discipline, and self-sacrifice. For instrument builders, it is a craft requiring a great deal of research and development, hours of patient labor, and a high degree of skill development. Last but not least, for those who are artist managers, workshop or festival directors, or importers of and dealers in early instruments, early music is also a business, subject to all the financial, legal, and managerial problems and pitfalls of any business enterprise.
For the benefit of our newer customers, a bit of our workshop's early history might first be in order. I came to early music performance with an extensive background in professional performance on modern instruments, although I had also played recorder since my undergraduate days. In the early sixties, after having acquired undergraduate and graduate degrees and pursuing a dual career as a college teacher and a professional musician, I acquired a consort of Küng recorders and cajoled several fellow professional musicians into learning to play recorder so that we could perform some of the magnificent consort literature for those instruments. I also transcribed and edited a good deal of medieval and renaissance music directly from primary sources, since the few performing editions to be had thirty-five years ago were of generally poor quality, particularly when compared with the wealth of excellent editions available today.
In the late sixties, I acquired my first professional quality recorders, a magnificent set of eight handmade rosewood instruments from the now-defunct workshop of Arnold Dolmetsch, Ltd., in England, made for me by the late Carl Dolmetsch,1 as well as a baroque oboe and bassoon and a number of other historical instruments as well. At the time, I had developed a modest but robust early music performance program at a midwestern university where I was teaching. The university had absolutely no interest in supporting an early music program beyond providing us with after-hours rehearsal space.
I supplied all of the instruments out of my own pocket and provided instruction and directed rehearsals on my own time without teaching load credit. The great enthusiasm of my students sustained me in this pioneer activity; my students and I gave a number of public performances which created great interest amidst the general public if not the music school administration, which persisted in failing to recognize early music performance as a legitimate enterprise within the curriculum. From all current reports, this school still does not have an early music performance program worthy of the name, in spite of efforts by several of my successors to continue my original efforts of three decades ago.
I returned to Boston in 1970 to pursue doctoral studies and, while thus engaged, founded a professional early music ensemble, The Aeolian Consort, consisting of eight instrumentalists and four vocalists. Since there were relatively few sources for historical instruments in the United States at that time (and none of those very reliable), I found it necessary to purchase instruments for myself and my colleagues directly from various European instrument makers. One of the unfortunate realities of the early instrument market, which I quickly learned to my dismay, was that few if any of those instruments were in optimum playing condition as delivered by their makers. After waiting months to years for delivery on instruments for which we had to pay in advance, never knowing what we would get, we found almost all of our early instruments quite inferior to our modern ones and quite unacceptable for professional performance use. It was little wonder that most professional musicians and the concert-going public at that time held early instruments and their players in such low esteem!
Eventually I came to understand the reasons for the generally poor quality of most historical instruments: then as now, most early instrument makers were primarily craftsmen and not musicians. Artisans and performers are two very different personality types, their characteristics rarely found together in one person. Someone once said that a craftsman is a person with a quiet mind and a steady hand; this is indeed true of many (but not all) craftsmen of my acquaintance. The opposite side of the coin, however, is that such personality types tend to make rather poor performers. Musicians, on the other hand, are often mercurial artistic types, lacking the patience and manual skills to be good, consistent artisans and the business skills to operate a small manufacturing operation.
Most instrument makers of my acquaintance are able to play the instruments they build at a rudimentary level at best and in some cases not at all, as I found out in later years when visiting suppliers in their European workshops. They are therefore not able to make the fine discriminations and final, subtle adjustments in voicing and tuning that require the playing skills and trained ear of a professional musician as well as those of a skilled craftsman.
Having a modest background in modern instrument repair techniques, a knowledge of musical instrument acoustics, and graduate degrees in both performance and musicology (the latter with a specialization in organology), admittedly a rather unusual combination of skills and experience, I set about trying to salvage the instruments that I had purchased and make them play better than they did when delivered. I was soon asked to work on instruments belonging to my professional colleagues, students, and friends. Then I started getting telephone calls from colleagues of colleagues, students of students, friends of friends, and eventually complete strangers who had heard about me by word of mouth and wanted to know if I could improve their ailing recorders and krummhorns or provide them with decent new ones. Without any planning or intent on my part, I suddenly found myself in the business of importing, servicing, and selling historical musical instruments. The rest, as they say, is indeed history.
As may be inferred from the above narrative, I did not plan to establish a business servicing and selling historical instruments; it was one of those nice things in life that seem to happen serendipitously. Rather than having sought and found my niche in the musical world, the niche seemed to have found me. I had no background or experience in running a small business, although I very quickly acquired much valuable (and sometimes very expensive) on-the-job training, learning from my mistakes and naďveté as I went. I date the formal beginning of our workshop from the time in late 1973 that I began to import instruments from European makers specifically for resale to the general public, although I had in fact been importing and working on early instruments informally for some six years prior to that time.
How that actually came about is a rather interesting tale. I had read in one of the first issues of Early Music, the English early music journal still being published by Oxford University Press, of some inexpensive renaissance recorders being made by the firm of Willy Hopf & Co. KG in West Germany.2 Since I was extremely dissatisfied with the renaissance recorders (some of German manufacture, some by a noted American maker) being used by myself and my colleagues in the Aeolian Consort, even after having done considerable salvage work on them, I decided to order a set of four Hopf instruments (one each soprano, alto, tenor, and bass) for evaluation - they were dirt cheap and I figured I could afford to gamble the modest cost of these completely unknown instruments. Then as now, buying instruments directly from a maker entailed certain perils; one paid in advance for the merchandise with no idea what one would get, buying the proverbial "pig in a poke."
The Hopf instruments eventually arrived, and I was at once elated and disappointed. They were rather homely in appearance, not very well in tune (the soprano and alto in particular were grossly flat in pitch), but they were in general well-made and had a lot of promise. I set about revoicing and retuning them and found that, although they could be substantially improved, they had some overall design faults which prevented their being as good as they might have been. I wrote the maker asking if he could make a few modifications in these instruments to my specifications and he replied that it would not be economically feasible to make these changes for just a single instrument but, if I were willing to order a modest number (I think it was ten) of each size, they would make a special batch of each size to my specifications. I figured that, since they were so inexpensive, I could resell those that were not needed by my consort to other players and at prices considerably lower than the renaissance recorders that were then currently available.
Hopf made the instruments for me as promised, I found that they were much improved (although they still needed some doctoring on my part), and in early 1974 I placed an ad in the American Recorder Society magazine offering these instruments for sale to the general public. Since I needed a name for the business and have always felt that naming a firm after oneself is rather crass, I appropriated the name of my ensemble, which was now using the Hopf instruments in public performance, and called the business "The Aeolian Workshop."
The prices of those early Hopf renaissance recorders were extremely reasonable, even for twenty-five years ago, and seem positively unbelievable in comparison to today's prices. I sold the soprano for $20.00, including a sturdy fitted wooden case! Today an equivalent instrument costs fifteen to twenty times that amount; even a case for a soprano recorder would cost a good deal more than those old Hopf instruments did. For historical purposes, we are reproducing our original advertisement for these instruments, exactly as it was printed in the February, 1974, issue of The American Recorder. 3 Much to my surprise, we were swamped with orders almost immediately. We continually increased the number of instruments on order with the Hopf firm but they couldn't turn them out fast enough. We were backordered for several years thereafter, and our business enterprise was off to a flying start. The Hopf firm subsequently invited us to become their sole agents in the United States, and we served in that capacity from 1976 until 1981, when the declining fortunes of that firm made the relationship no longer feasible.
By this time, I had also developed a close personal friendship with the late Ted Mix, president of Magnamusic Distributors, Inc., and the U. S. sales agent for recorders by Moeck, Adler, and Heinrich, as well as Neupert harpsichords and a variety of sheet music publishers. Ted was a very quiet, soft-spoken, thoughtful gentleman and a scrupulously honest and decent businessman and individual, the sort of person who was rare enough in his own day and even more rare today.
More than perhaps any other single person, Ted had been responsible for developing the commercial wholesale distribution and popularization of the recorder and its music in this country, although he himself had no background in music whatsoever and could not even play a simple tune on the instruments which he sold! With his support and encouragement I began to service and sell his Moeck recorders in addition to our own Hopf instruments, although I never could bring myself to promote his East German-made Adler and Heinrich instruments, then and until quite recently still frozen in a pre-World War II time warp and sadly lacking in quality of design, materials, and workmanship. 4
A few years later, Dr. Moeck offered Magnamusic the exclusive American distribution for their Moeck-Steinkopf 5 series of historical woodwind instruments as well as their recorders. Interest in wind instruments other than recorders was beginning to snowball in this country and Moeck evidently thought that it would be easier for both his firm and his American customers if the increasing number of inquiries and sales could be channeled through a single source over here. Magnamusic, having already been his American agent for recorders for some time, was the logical choice for this agency.
Ted came to me, knowing that I had been importing these instruments directly from Moeck for my own use and had done considerable work in tuning, repairing, and reedmaking for them, and asked if I thought he should get involved with anything other than recorders. He was always a bit apologetic about his lack of musical background and was somewhat reluctant to take on an entire arsenal of odd-looking instruments with strange names, all of which were even more problem-prone than the recorder. I, on the other hand, felt that this country was ripe for an explosion of interest in historical woodwinds and, being well aware of the problems involved in importing these instruments myself, felt that the interests of our customers would indeed be better served if he were to stock and sell them. I pledged to provide whatever technical and musical input he would need and do repairs as necessary, thus beginning a mutually beneficial collaboration that continued for more than five years until his untimely death in 1979.
Another individual in the music business who, I have realized in retrospect, had a great personal influence on me was Robert D. King, who operated a highly efficient and successful small business publishing, importing, and selling by mail order sheet music for brass instruments. During the mid 1960s I was living in southeastern Massachusetts and made the acquaintance of Bob and his wife Sally, who lived a short distance away in the town of North Easton. 6 Bob had earlier been a faculty member at my alma mater, Boston University, and a professional low brass player, but had retired from both of those pursuits to operate his own small business. Little did I then suspect that, two decades later, I would be following his example.
I greatly admired the Kings' integrity and industry in operating their home-based family-run business and, in retrospect, many of their precepts and practices seem to have rubbed off on me as well. They prided themselves on having an enormous inventory of every single piece of brass sheet music currently in print. They also provided superb same-day service to all of their customers; orders that arrived in the morning mail went off to the local post office that same afternoon. 7
By mid-1976, The Aeolian Workshop had grown by leaps and bounds in the two and a half years since its formal inception. I spent most of my free evenings and weekends working on instruments and answering mail and telephone inquiries (E-mail unfortunately did not exist at the time), while at the same time teaching full-time at the university level and playing professionally on both modern bassoon and early instruments. The strain was beginning to wear me down and I realized that, if I wanted to live to a reasonably ripe old age, I could not continue to teach full-time, pursue an active career as a professional musician, and run a workshop and small business enterprise as well.
Having taught in higher education for some twelve years at that point in my life, I made the difficult decision to retire from the academic world and devote myself full-time to the operation of The Aeolian Workshop, a choice which, in retrospect, was clearly the right one for me and one that I have never for one moment regretted. I also found that I had less and less time available to perform professionally. In 1976, I disbanded The Aeolian Consort and, over the next several years, gradually withdrew from professional performance on modern bassoon as well. There simply wasn't enough time to do everything I wanted to do in life as well as I wanted to do it, and I had to make some hard choices as to how to allocate my time and energy resources.
Being free from the strictures of an academic calendar for the first time since I was six years old had its advantages, I found out rather quickly. I was free to travel frequently to Europe, visiting instrument makers and forging relationships with prospective suppliers. I also spent much time visiting museum instrument collections for purposes of design research, gradually learning how and why the original instruments worked (or didn't work, in many cases) and developing or trouble-shooting designs for modern reproductions by a number of makers.
During the mid and late 1970's, I made perhaps three or four trips a year to Europe, seeking out new suppliers of historical instruments for our customers and expanding our instrumental catalogue gradually and selectively. I made it a practice never to order from a maker until I had visited him in his home and workshop (usually one and the same) and had gotten to know him personally and evaluate his work. Then as now, there were many small-time makers of early instruments, some very fine and others who were mediocre or worse at their craft. Some, sad to tell, were good craftsmen but totally incompetent or unscrupulous businessmen. I learned as I went, occasionally getting burned in the process and chalking it up to experience.
In 1981, after seven and a half years of rapidly expanding growth, I found it advisable to incorporate our business, renaming it Antique Sound Workshop, Ltd. The reorganization, in retrospect long overdue, enabled us to handle our financial and legal affairs much more efficiently and devote a greater proportion of our time to our individual customers' needs. Upon advice of counsel, we decided to change our name in order to avoid potential conflict in registration of trademarks and patents with The Aeolian Piano Company, a firm in Memphis that produced player pianos and had acquired a number of other piano manufacturing plants under various brand names. While I was sorry to see our old name with its multiple musical and personal associations retired, I must admit that it had gotten a bit tiresome to spell "Aeolian" several dozen times a day on the telephone to office supply firms, customs brokers, freight forwarders, and other business vendors who had no musical background. Our old name was, quite literally, Greek to them.
Our new name Antique Sound Workshop, Ltd., admittedly somewhat more generic, also acknowledged the fact that our inventory had long since incorporated all manner of historical brass, string, keyboard, and percussion instruments in addition to the recorders and other historical woodwind instruments that were our original stock in trade. Unfortunately, we quickly found that the people who couldn't spell "Aeolian" had trouble spelling "Antique" as well or else thought we sold old radios and phonographs! Curiously enough, we still occasionally get telephone calls or mail under our original name, which does make one wonder where some people have been for the past seventeen years.
Much has changed in the past quarter century in the early music business and not everything has necessarily changed for the better. The marketplace has become a jungle and the Roman adage caveat emptor applies more now than ever before. There are very few constants in the world of early musical instruments; the market is a changing scene and many businesses have come and gone in the interim. The pioneer firm of Arnold Dolmetsch, Ltd., is no longer in existence, having succumbed in 1981 to poor financial management and a protracted legal battle with the competing firm of J. & M. Dolmetsch, the formation of which was occasioned by an internecine feud within the Dolmetsch family. Our original namesake The Aeolian Piano Company in Memphis went bankrupt a decade and a half ago, reflecting the overall decline in the piano business and music stores in general in this country. The advent of music superstores in the past few years has caused yet further attrition amongst family-owned, service-oriented mom-and-pop music stores. 8
The original Hopf renaissance recorders, our first stock instruments, were discontinued in 1978, replaced by the newer Hopf Praetorius series renaissance recorders, which in turn have been surpassed by newer, better designs from other makers such as Mollenhauer and Rössler. The Willy Hopf firm itself, after a series of futile attempts to avoid bankruptcy in the early 1980's, went out of business in 1985, a victim of mismanagement, dishonesty, and stupidity on the part of its owners. 9
The past few years have seen the deaths of a number of great pioneer instrument designers and makers, such as the German maker of renaissance wind instruments Günter Körber, the English maker of cornetts and serpents Christopher Monk, and of course Carl Dolmetsch. Ted Mix, my good friend and mentor, passed away in 1979 and with him, it seems, went a more gentlemanly period in the early music business, one when competitors could still be good friends and cutthroat mail-order discounters were unknown.
In unearthing the vintage 1974 issue of The American Recorder to find our original ad for Hopf recorders, I was chagrined to see how many dealers and instrument makers listed in that magazine are no longer in business. Firms such as the New York Recorder Workshop (which was actually located in San Francisco), Classical Instruments, Pipe and Tabor, Terminal Music, Centre de la Flute ŕ Bec, and still later enterprises such as Unicorns and Other Horns and The Early Interval, as well as gifted makers such as James Cox, Peter Tourin, Richard Palm, Charles Collier, Richard Hart, and Aardvark Fluteworks are all no longer in business, victims of the extremely precarious nature of the early instrument business. Antique Sound Workshop, on the other hand, is very much alive and well and, save for our incorporation and name change over seventeen years ago, has actually not changed appreciably in the past twenty-five years. Our ownership is the same, and our mission is the same. We are still primarily concerned with offering "instruments of outstanding quality at reasonable cost and for immediate delivery" to those customers who want optimized, custom-serviced historical musical instruments which will provide the ultimate performance of which they are capable.
Perhaps the most important change was our move four years ago to Plymouth, after some twenty-one years living and working at the same location in Brookline. For the first time we now have sufficient workshop, storage, shipping, and office space, enabling us to serve our customers much more effectively. The opening of our Internet web site on August 1st, 1996, was another important milestone in our firm's history. During its first two years of operation, our site attracted 26,000 visitors! The increase in our volume of business has been astounding, to say the least, and we have had to develop ever more efficient ways to service and ship the large number of instruments that we deliver to our many customers across the country and around the world.
On the occasion of our silver anniversary, I should like to thank those customers who have made Antique Sound Workshop the continuing success that it is been for the past quarter century. We have many wonderful customers, some of whom have been with us a full twenty-five years and others of much more recent vintage, who have supported us with their kind words, encouragement, and (last but certainly not least) their continued patronage. We have made some wonderfully enduring friendships during these years, and the gratitude and appreciation of our many loyal customers have always been and indeed continue to be the most rewarding aspect of our business.
1 See Chrestologia, Vol. XXII, No. 3 (October 1997), pp. 2-9 for an appreciation of this famous English maker and personal reminiscences by ASW director David H. Green.
2 See Early Music, Vol. I, No. 2 (April 1973), pp. 125-126, and Vol. I, No. 3 (July, 1973), p. 188.
3 Please note, however, that these instruments are no longer available and, at any rate, the prices would no longer be valid!
4 It is only during the past few years that these firms, forcibly unified and supervised by the communist East Germany government under the joint name Adler-Heinrich, have slowly begun to revise and improve their wide range of recorders and become more competitive on the world market. See Chrestologia, Vol. XXI, No. 22 (June 1996), pp. 6-9, and Chrestologia, Vol. XXII, No. 2 (June 1997), pp. 8-19 for a discussion of the newer instruments being made by this workshop.
5 In 1964, Moeck Verlag und Musikinstrumentenwerk acquired the designs and rights to produce the entire range of historical woodwind instruments which had previously been developed and made by Otto Steinkopf in his own Berlin workshop since the early 1950s. These instruments were produced in a completely separate Historiche Abteilung (historical department) within the Moeck recorder factory. The most experienced Moeck employees and apprentices worked in this department, which produced an astonishing range of historical wind instruments: renaissance krummhorns, cornamuses, kortholts, rauschpfeifen, racketts, shawms, dulcians, cornetts, and serpents, plus baroque flutes, oboes, bassoons, racketts, and chalumeaux, and a classical clarinet. Otto Steinkopf remained on as a part-time advisor to the Moeck workshop throughout the rest of the decade, but gradually withdrew from day to day management into retirement in the early 1970s. He died in February of 1980. See The Aeolian Workshop Customer Newsletter, Vol. 5, No. 2 (June 1980), pp 3-4, for an obituary and appreciation of this great pioneer maker of historical woodwind instruments.
6 This beautiful little town, located just west of the city of Brockton, has a large number of handsome municipal and private buildings designed by the great architect Henry Hobson Richardson. These buildings were commissioned by the Ames family of North Easton, the members of which had accumulated substantial personal wealth in the shovel-manufacturing business.
7 Some years later, Bob King sold the retail part of his business to the French music publishing firm of Alphonse Leduc, with which he had had a long and close relationship. They now own and operate Robert King Music Sales, which was moved to another location in the same town. Bob continues to edit and publish music for brass instruments, which is then distributed and sold by the Leduc-owned firm.
8 Just recently I read that 50 music stores in southern California alone went out of business last year, victims of the big-box retailers and mail-order discounters in the music industry.
9 The firm was split up and its various divisions were either dissolved or sold off to other individuals in a futile effort to stave off bankruptcy. The guitar department was acquired by Dieter Hopf, who had always headed its activities; he continues to make superb artist-quality instruments to the present day. The recorder-making department was acquired by Peter Koblizek, a former Hopf employee, who continued to make instruments to the old Hopf designs under his own name. Unfortunately, the quality of design and workmanship fell off badly and we declined to carry the Koblizek instruments.
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