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

Sandra Kip 2
Sandra Shaw, daughter of Juliet Shaw, with Kip Rosser.

Saggini: What does the archive contain?

Rosser: When I arrived in June of 2022, I was totally floored. Sandra had been going through closets and drawers in search of materials. She had unearthed boxes of envelopes, folders, loose printed materials of all sorts. Sandra herself was seeing many of the things for the first time. Everything was spread out on folding chairs all over the huge living room. Nothing was organized in any way. It was impossible to determine how much stuff was there and what all of it was. It was too much to take in. However, Sandra allowed me, in good faith, to borrow two audio cassettes and one 33rpm vinyl record. I wanted her to know that she could trust me with the materials; remembering how she’d been burned years before when she lent some things out, this was difficult for her. However, I brought the materials home, digitized them immediately, then packed everything up and mailed it all back to her less than 24 hours later. She received the package, as well as digitized versions (on CDs) of what was on the tapes and vinyl.

It was during my second visit in August that the full extent of the archives began to dawn on us. At that time, Sandra allowed me to take everything she’d found. I brought boxes, rubbermaid bins, paper bags and envelopes home with me. After 7 hours of sorting, I was finally able to make some basic sense of the scope of the extraordinary collection:

Hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles, the earliest dating back to 1926.

Hundreds of photographs, the earliest from the late 1800s and spanning up through the 1990s

Dozens of concert programs, recital programs, promotional flyers, posters, invitations. The earliest dates from 1915 and it was from a recital of Russian dance that Juliet attended when she was 12 years old.

A couple dozen lectures written by Juliet Shaw – some typewritten, some handwritten. The handwritten ones were unsorted, mixed up and dozens of required hours of matching inks, papers and handwriting styles in order to properly sequence them. It was like trying to fit jigsaw puzzle pieces together without realizing that the pieces were from different puzzles.

16 vinyl recordings.

19 Audio cassettes.

37 Reel-to-reel tapes.

4 video tapes: one VHS, one of another type that required a special machine for playback and transfer, and two open reel EAIJ-1 video tapes that also require a special machine for playback and transfer.

Dozens of pieces of correspondence to Juliet Shaw.

An assortment of award certificates and citations.

A small ceramic dog that was given to Juliet by Buffalo Bill Cody when he visited her family in Hartford Connecticut. Cody died in 1917, so Juliet could have been anywhere from around five to twelve years old.

A gold pitch rod and a gold volume loop, both made of brass. These were custom made for Juliet and were to be part of a new custom theremin she planned to have built for her; it was going to be a transparent instrument, made of lucite. Who the builder was going to be is thus far unknown. Also, Sandra has said she saw the blueprints/plans for the theremin’s construction but they’ve yet to be found.

Juliet’s small tool kit.

A ton of piano sheet music.

Saggini: Have you found original music scores for theremin?

Nothing has surfaced, although, organist Calvin Hampton did compose a piece for Juliet entitled, “Childhood’s End.” He wrote it for theremin, vibraphone, flute, and organ. Thus far, only a single recording of this has been found, and it is incomplete – about a nine minute excerpt.

Saggini: Have you found correspondence and documents which, in addition to shedding light on the figure of Juliet, can contribute to broadening the history of the theremin as we know it?

Rosser: The significant materials that shed light on Juliet and the theremin’s history are some of the audio and video interview segments as well as passages appearing in her handwritten and typewritten notes and manuscripts for her lectures. Scattered throughout are all sorts of references to notable people, various descriptions of events, etc. The most fascinating segments describe what it was like to walk into Leon Theremin’s upper West Side apartments, their meeting and his decision to build a theremin specifically for her with an extended range of six octaves. Also of interest are Juliet’s texts on electronic music and its future.

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