The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Globe Life

January 14, 2013

Joplin native hopes to share passion for clavichord, keyboard instruments

JOPLIN, Mo. — Christopher Grills has a clavichord. And he might be the only person around who can make a claim like that.

"I would say this is the only clavichord in Joplin, wouldn't you?" he mused, quite seriously, to the Globe last week from his parents' house in Loma Linda. "I've seen very few other clavichords, period."

Grills, a 2010 graduate of Joplin High School, is making it his life's mission to study and play keyboard instruments, including the piano, the harpsichord and the organ. He lately has taken a particular liking to the clavichord, a stringed keyboard instrument used throughout western Europe during the Renaissance era until the early 19th century.

Discovery, donation

Grills named his clavichord SpŸrsinn, a German word for "serendipity" -- a fitting name, considering how it came into his possession.

Two years ago, Grills was part of a cross-country tour with the collegiate choir of Illinois Wesleyan University, where he is a student. For overnight lodging in each city on their tour, choir members were divided into small groups and parceled out to stay with churches and volunteer families.

By chance, Grills ended up in a home during their Rochester, N.Y., stay that was filled with instruments, including pianos, barrel organs, a pipe organ and a carillon. He sat down at one of the host family's pianos and began playing a piece by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, a German composer (and son of his more famous father, Johann Sebastian Bach) who is known for his clavichord compositions.

"They (the host family) said, ÔYou know, we have a clavichord,'" Grills said. "I just knew about it as a hobbyist. I hadn't seen one or played one before. He said, ÔWould you mind taking this off our hands?'"

Grills said he initially declined taking their clavichord, which was built from a kit from Zuckermann Harpsichords International, a Stonington, Conn.-based company. It was designed after the 18th-century model that Bach himself might have played. But clavichords are expensive (even a used instrument could cost thousands), and Grills wasn't sure he could accept the offer.

The family eventually persuaded him to take it, and the clavichord was boxed up and given the front seat of the choir's tour bus all the way back to Illinois. The instrument currently lives at Grills' parents' house and recently was transported to the Post Memorial Art Reference Library in Joplin, where Grills performed a concert.

"The chances that this would happen at all," Grills said, seated at the clavichord, his voice trailing off. "I still look at it, and I still can't believe it happened that way."

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