The Hippo


May 31, 2020








The Boston Typewriter Orchestra performs at the Currier on Thursday, March 6. Nicole Tammaro photo.

The Boston Typewriter Orchestra

Where: Currier Museum of Art, 150 Ash St., Manchester
When: Thursday, March 6, from 6 to 9 p.m.
What: The orchestra will perform two half-hour performances, one of which will start at 6:30 p.m., the next at 7:30 p.m. Before, in between and afterward, attendees can partake in Witkin exhibition tours and view a food demonstration by chef Joseph Sylvester.
Admission: Free with museum admission: $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, $9 for students, $5 for youth, free for kids younger than 13.

Not your type-ical concert
Currier host to Boston Typewriter Orchestra

By Kelly Sennott

 Next week, the Currier Museum of Art’s going to sound like a clickity, clackity computer rebellion.

The Boston Typewriter Orchestra performs in the museum’s second “Currier After Hours” event on Thursday, March 6, with one of the most revered extinct objects from the 20th century. Its New Hampshire debut is in conjunction with the museum’s most recent exhibition, “Exploring the Currier Inside Out: Andrew Witkin, Among Others.”
The exhibition, if you haven’t seen it yet, takes some of the museum’s current collection and gives it new perspective. Whether by installing a silhouette that describes a beautiful clock’s history or re-organizing the museum’s pieces by shape, Witkin said, the idea of the show is to provoke viewers to look at items in a new way. Which is why this group of musicians fits in so nicely: they use typewriters as musical instruments.
“They’re taking an old typewriter and using it in a different way than it was ever intended to be used,” said Lynn Thomson, associate educator for adult and family audiences. “There are so many things that have become outdated because of technology. The question is, how can they be re-fashioned in some way? Some people make sculptures using these old objects. This group is making music.”
The team of musicians includes Jeff Breeze, Alex Holman, Chris Keene, Giordana Mecagni, Jay O’Grady and Brendan Quigley, who have day jobs that range from crossword puzzle designer to bioinformaticist. They started about eight years ago as part of a bad joke — one member received a typewriter as a gift and enjoyed banging on its keys so much he jokingly coined himself a member of the Boston Typewriter Orchestra. A few others followed suit.
“But then, we all began taking it too seriously,” Holman said. “All of a sudden, the bad joke turned into something, and that something was a typewriter orchestra.”
On the repertoire for the Manchester evening premiere are “The Revolution Will Be Typewritten,” “Underwood Blues,” “Break Time” and “Harold.” Difficult to imagine until you hear it, the sound is like a synchronized 1950s office, a large group tap dance number and a percussion-heavy marching band blended together.
“The typewriter songs are very intricate, rhythmic pieces. There’s not much melody in it. They’re listenable and fun,” Holman said. “We also like to mix them up with vocal pieces that riff on the concept of office work in the 1950s.”
His fellow orchestra members have come to know the machines very well.
Take key strike, for instance: Orchestra members can tell the difference between an ‘s’ strike, a ‘p’ strike and a ‘shift’ strike, depending on the type of machine. The ‘l’ and ‘s’ are often used because they’re far enough away from one another that they won’t jam.
The model, too, can make a difference in sound.
“If you listen very closely, you can tell the different sounds from the keys. Every typewriter has a different case structure. Some have hatches that open and close. … Along with that, the roller makes a fun, grindy sound,” he said.
A Royal typewriter has a “bouncy clang” to it, and the Smith Corona model Holman prefers has a good key sound and loose roller on it. Want to get more clang from your strike? Insert copper piping in place of paper. The machines, which usually sport a two- to three-year orchestra lifespan, have become increasingly difficult to find.
The group achieved brief fame on America’s Got Talent and has been invited to perform in places as far away as India. 
“There’s always an appeal of watching people who are kind of obsessed and excited about something do what they’re obsessed and excited about,” Holman said. “It’s unusual and it’s obvious that all of us on stage are really just having a good time with it.” 
As seen in the February 27, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

®2020 Hippo Press. site by wedu