The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 4, 2013

Clavichord's sound, history featured in concert

By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor

JOPLIN, Mo. — A concert on Sunday is notable not only for the musician performing, but the instrument he'll play.

Christopher Grills, of Joplin, will perform at 2:30 p.m. at the Post Memorial Art Reference Library. He'll play a clavichord, the precursor instrument from the Renaissance and Baroque eras that led to the harpsichord and piano.

"I'm playing an instrument that's very rarely heard live," Grills said. "Clavichord hasn't made quite the comeback that the harpsichord has. Because it's so quiet, it's tough to play in concert halls."

An intimate setting in the library is perfect for Grills, who is a keyboard performance major at Wesleyan University and is studying keyboard in Vienna, Austria. He graduated from Joplin High School in 2010.

While playing and studying the instrument, he has picked up some techniques that are incorporated into his songwriting. Grills can do vibrato-style effects by wiggling a key up and down, and can also strum the strings inside for unique sounds, including guitar-style harmonics.

Not bad for someone who discovered the instrument in college. He is studying in Vienna to get closer to the history of clavichord and other early keyboard instruments.

"As an undergraduate, my major instrument is the piano," Grills said. "I didn't know what I wanted to do until I came to college and discovered this instrument. It's the reason I'm studying abroad. I don't know of many universities in the U.S. that have a clavichord teacher."

As part of his performance, he will play a piece from the Robertsbridge Codex, which is regarded as the earliest surviving composition for the keyboard. It's unknown who wrote it or for what instrument, Grills said, but it's estimated to have been written around 1350.

Though he is studying the past, he also has an ear for the future. Grills composes classical music, and writes techno and jazz arrangements of other classical pieces.