Going for Baroque

Peter and Andrea Tkach conjure the sublime by building harpischords in their basement

Given the esoteric nature of the instrument, it's no surprise that there are fewer than 30 harpsichord makers (those who build from historical plans, as opposed to kits) in the States. Together they form a network of history and technique -- sometimes the knowledge is exchanged; sometimes it's guarded obsessively. "You get to know builders who will share ideas," Peter says. "Others don't want to let any secrets out, so speak. If you need advice, after a while you find out who you can talk to. There are historical keyboard groups, a conclave of players and makers who are connected. We go to those periodically and talk to them, give feedback back and forth."

Though the Tkaches, who are now up to Opus 81, work alone in their home, they do not labor in isolation. On their Web site, www.tkach-harpsi.com, anyone can find images of their work and follow the process of construction, step by step. The Internet, it turns out, has become one of the key modernizing techniques in the builders' historical work. "We really communicate with the client," Andrea says. "With the advent of e-mail, it's become so much easier. We can talk about any step of the process. We constantly e-mail back and forth designs, ideas, paint samples, gilding samples and drawings."

But no technology could ever fathom the enduring allure of the harpsichord; as sentimental as it may be, the sound of a well-built harpsichord, based on geometry and materials that have stood the test of time, is still fundamentally mysterious. "It's a very sweet, angelic sound," Peter says. "It makes you feel more precious or connected to the universe. It has more soul. The piano has strength, but the harpsichord touches your inner being a little more closely. That's my own feeling."

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