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Kip Rosser Tells Us About Juliet Shaw and a Lost Theremin Treasure

Juliet Shaw
American thereminist Juliet Shaw.

Juliet Shaw (1903-1994) was an American pianist and thereminist active from the 1930s to the 1980s. In addition to founding the Silvermine School of Music in 1939, Juliet conducted an intense musical activity, including concerts, music events, and radio and television interviews. Nevertheless, she is almost entirely unknown and has yet to appear in the primary publications dedicated to the theremin, except with vague hints. In more than two decades of activity, even this site has managed to publish only a newspaper clipping about her.

In 2008, theremin player and teacher Kip Rosser, moved by the desire to fill this gap by making a documentary, got in touch with Sandra and Karen Shaw, Juliet's daughters, to make a video interview. In that circumstance, Sandra and Karen showed Kip a box containing newspaper clippings and envelopes containing photographs. They knew that more material existed but had yet to locate it. A series of events stalled the documentary project, and in 2019, Karen died. Finally, in 2022 Sandra Shaw found the entire archive and approved Kip Rosser to take care of the collection and organize and archive it.

As we have already reported, Kip has, for this purpose, announced the "Juliet Shaw Legacy Project", for which he has launched a fundraiser.

Full details of the initiative are available on the project website: jshawlegacy.com.

Thanks to Kip, we can also listen to the recording of George Gershwin's "Summertime" 1974 performance by Juliet Shaw:

Juliet ShawSummertime

But let's hear from Kip's voice how things went.

Saggini: Can you tell us how it went that you met Juliet Shaw's daughters? Was it a chance meeting or the fruit of a deliberate search?

Rosser: As I mention in the fundraising video, I was reading the acknowledgements section of a book and in a small segment of a sentence, the author was thanking Sandra Shaw Murphy and Karen Shaw for access to materials relating to “American pianist and thereminist, Juliet Shaw.” Other than that, Juliet Shaw is entirely absent from the book. I was intrigued. I searched online and found the music school founded by Juliet Shaw.

The meeting was deliberate. I phoned the school and spoke to Sandra. After explaining that I was hoping to interview her and Karen, they consented to my visiting them. My purpose was to interview them both and create a mini-documentary that would bring Juliet Shaw into the spotlight, so to speak. That was in 2008.

Saggini: Were Juliet's daughters aware of the consistency of Juliet's archive, or was it a gradual discovery prompted by you?

Rosser: Sandra and Karen were fully aware of the fact that there were a lot of materials related to Juliet’s life and career, most of which they had yet to find. They showed me a small box of news clippings, many were photocopies of originals. They also had a couple of envelopes containing photographs. However, they also told me that there were some cassette tapes, but they didn’t know precisely where the tapes were. Almost the entire collection was still undiscovered. The two sisters had not yet really begun to search.

Unfortunately, through a horrible series of events, 95% of all the footage I shot was lost. Even though I'd downloaded everything onto my computer and backed everything up onto an external drive. Within a week, my computer was stolen and the hard drive crashed so badly that even professionals were unable to recover the data.

Fast forward to 2021. In an obscure folder on a second backed up hard drive (I probably saved what I was doing but forgot to see where I was sending it), I found scraps of footage from the meeting. Only about 8 minutes worth, and none of it was the interview; it was footage of Juliet’s theremin, Karen and Sandra demonstrating Juliet's technique, and a segment of me and Sandra attempting to play Debussy’s Clair de Lune (during which, Karen was holding the camera). Upon finding this little bit of footage, I assembled a video and sent it to Sandra in the spring of 2022. After seeing it, she invited me to visit again. June of 2022 was the beginning of initiating a serious concerted effort to organize, archive and preserve Juliet Shaw’s legacy.

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