Work Experience

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Mao Lee at the 1982 Willard Martin harpsichord 54K jpeg
Mao Lee inserting the new dampers in the
back 8⁠´ choir of the 1982 Willard Martin harpsichord

Mao Lee was completing his Bachelor of Music degree at Queensland Conservatorium of Music, where he was a piano student of Natasha Vlassenko. He studied harpsichord with Huguette Brassine as an elective, and is the second pupil that Huguette encouraged to come to Sydney to spend some time in the harpsichord workshop—the first being Jessica Hsieh, also from Taiwan.

There was plenty happening in the week of December 2012 that Mao chose for his visit. I think Mao was excited to see and play so many fine instruments in the one place. Pinchgut Opera’s production of Rameau’s Castor & Pollux was underway at City Recital Hall with my 1991 French Double, and he enjoyed the final performance of that wonderful production very much. On another day, we had to deliver the continuo organ to a church for a recording by Sydney Consort.

We had several instruments in the workshop requiring attention, but a 1982 Willard Martin French Single arrived from Canberra requiring major maintenance, so this proved ideal for Mao to experience and be part of its overhaul. We cleaned, leveled and spaced the keys. There were many odd bass strings so I decided to restring the bottom octave and a half with new US Red & Yellow brass wire. Mao picked up how to wind nice tight hitchpin loops almost immediately—something that not everyone can do. We removed the original tired Delrin plectra, replacing them with fresh quills then revoicing and regulating before inserting new dampers.

Of course, tuning is an important part of the life of a budding harpsichordist, although perhaps not so familiar to even accomplished pianists who are used to taking their instrument as it comes. We had lengthy discussions about tuning, and Mao sat over me while I tuned for two of the Castor & Pollux performances. With a little direction and patient practice, Mao was ready and able to hear beats and translate that aural input to the motor skill required to turn the tuning hammer the required amount in the right direction.

Footnote March 2018: Mao realized his dream of advanced studies in fortepiano with Bart van Oort at the Royal Conservatory of the Hague, where he obtained his Masters degree. He has now returned to Australia.

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