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April 16, 2013

Colonial Williamsburg Publishes Book on Keyboard Instruments

A new book by Colonial Williamsburg’s curator of musical instruments illuminates the dramatic changes in keyboard instruments during the period before, during and after the American Revolution. John R. Watson’s “Changing Keys: Keyboard Instruments for America 1700-1830” examines 38 instruments, including harpsichords, spinets, organs and pianos.

The title has multiple meanings. “The book traces the transition from harpsichord to piano and the accompanying shift in taste during the period, and also the burgeoning American industry that undercut London’s monopoly on the manufacture of instruments,” said Watson. “The title also reflects the way individual instruments were changed by time and restorers over their history of use.”

“Changing Keys” examines the evolution of instrument design due to regional and political influences, market and demographic shifts, manufacturing technologies and the competition among makers and merchants. The 132-page book features exquisite color photographs of period keyboard instruments and details of decorative elements as well as the inner workings of the instruments. Illustrations and photographs of the technical specifications and a pictorial glossary help to clarify how the instruments were built and worked. The book was made possible by a gift from Dordy and Charlie Freeman of Stone Mountain, Ga. A special exhibit at the DeWitt Wallace Museum features 28 of the instruments and will run through 2014. The exhibit was made possible through the support of the Freemans and from Debra and Thomas Strange of Easley, S. C.

Watson is an instrument maker himself, with 32 keyboard instruments bearing his signature, including three in daily use at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. He was named conservator of musical instruments and mechanical arts in 1988 and became associate curator of musical instruments in 2008.

The hardcover book is available for $30 through Colonial Williamsburg stores and It is co-published by Scarecrow Press, an imprint of the Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group.

Media Contact:
Barbara Brown