Harpsichordist ≠ Pianist
I get into conversations about my choice of instrument more often than not. I’m not sure why, but I do appreciate people asking about the harpsichord even if they have little or no idea about the instrument. As I’ve come to understand it, there are (generally) three types of people.
- have never seen/heard a harpsichord.
- have heard one (can’t remember where), but haven’t seen one up-close.
- have heard and seen the instrument (and like it!), yet don’t know there are differences between it and the piano.
As for the final category, they follow with, “do you also play the piano?” To which I answer, “no, I’m a specialist.” The usual response is some form of “what’s the difference?”
I then haul out my sports analogy.
Tennis vs. Table Tennis (a.k.a. Ping-Pong)
Imagine a tennis player in the middle of a match. Then imagine a ping-pong player at a tournament.
We’ve seen them in games on television at the international level and many of us have taken part in both as recreational sports. (We can relate to the differences on a visual and tactile level.)
Now think about the physical requirements (strength, agility, coordination) of playing tennis. Do the same for ping-pong.
Think about the tennis racket and what it takes to control. And now the ping-pong paddle.
At the very highest level (think, Olympics), both types of athletes are ferocious during play and a wonder to behold (not unlike virtuoso pianists and harpsichordists).
Now ask the ping-pong player to pick up a tennis racket and play at the same competitive level he normally does. Or vice versa.
Imagine the tennis player is like a pianist and the ping-pong player, a harpsichordist.
With very few exceptions, the finest harpsichordists only play the harpsichord.