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Leon Theremin:

trange Music

Classroom Study Guide

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2007 - 2008 Season Sponsors

Timothy J. Bond Producing Artistic Director

James A. Clark Managing Director


LEON THEREMIN: STRANGE MUSIC Written and Directed by Lauren Unbekant

Sponsored by:

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Syracuse Stage Dept. of Educational Outreach (315) 443-1150

Timothy J. Bond Producing Artistic Director

James A. Clark Managing Director

Table of Contents 5.

Theatre and Education


Elements of Theatre


Elements of Art


A Message From the Director


Histio-Biographic Timeline


Leon Theremin - Backstory


The Theremin - How it Works


Theremin and the Big Apple


Resources & Questions

Š 2007; Edited by Lauren Unbekant and Adam Zurbruegg; Layout by Adam Zurbruegg

Syracuse Stage Dept. of Educational Outreach (315) 443-1150

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Theatre and Education “Theatre brings life to life.” -Zelda Fichandler

When the first cave dweller got up to tell a story, theatre began. Almost every culture has some sort of live performance tradition to tell stories. Television and film may have diminished the desire for access to theatre, but they have not diminished the importance. Live theatre gives each audience member an opportunity to connect with the performers in a way he or she never could with Tom Cruise or Lindsay Lohan. The emotions can be more intense because the events are happening right in front of the audience.

Audience Etiquette

A Few Reminders for Your Students BE PROMPT - Give your students plenty of time to arrive, find their seats, and get situated. RESPECT OTHER PEOPLE’S SPACE - Remind students not to bump/kick the person next to or in front of them (or their chairs!) LISTEN QUIETLY - Unlike TV, these actors can see and hear you. Talking, even in a whisper, distracts both the performers and other audience members. There is of course an exception to this rule if the performers ask for audience response! Please also avoid unnecessary coughing, gum chewing, and no electronic games or cell phones! STAY WITH US - Please do not leave, or allow students to leave, once a performance has begun, except in absolute emergencies. APPLAUD - Polite applause lets the performers know you appreciate their hard work, but at the wrong time it can be disruptive. It is appropriate to clap in between scenes, and at the very end of the performance.

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Elements of Theatre Theatre usually engages other art disciplines including: Writing, Visual/Design, Music, and Dance or Movement.

This column contains some possible elements for further classroom exploration when investigating a piece of theatre.

Character Who? – Who are the characters in the play and what is their relationship to each other?

Plot/Story What? – What is the story line? What happened before the play started? What do the characters want? What happens next? Setting Where? – Where does the story take place? This influences design concepts and actors’ actions. Char- acters move and behave according to their environ ment. Time When? – Time consists of: Historical (period in history), Time of Year/Season, and Time of Day, all of which influence design concepts and actors’ actions.

Character Relationship Conflict/Resolution Action Plot/Story Setting Time Improvisation Non-Verbal Communication Staging Realism/Naturalism Visual Composition Metaphor Language Tone Pattern Repetition Emotion Point of View Humor

Creating Questions for Exploration Creating an open-ended question using an element for exploration, otherwise known as a “Line of Inquiry,” can help students make discoveries about a piece of theatre and its relevance to their own lives. A Line of Inquiry is also useful for Kinesthetic Activities (On-Your-Feet Exercises.) Examples of Lines of Inquiry: 1. How does an actor create a character through changing his/her body shape? 2. How does an actor create setting using physical actions? 3. How does an actor use the language of gesture to convey emotion/feeling? 4. How does the use of music convey the mood of a scene?

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Elements of Art There are typically six elements of art that can be found in most art works. Artists use these elements as a “visual alphabet” to produce all kinds of art forms. The way in which elements are organized is referred to as the Principles of Design. Line is the most basic element of art; a continous mark made on a surface can vary in appearance (length, width, texture, direction, and curve.) There are five varieties of lines: vertical, horizontal, diagonal, curved, zigzag. Shape is two-dimensional (circle, square, triangle, rectangle, etc.) and encloses space. Can be geometric, man-made or free-form.

Questions for Noticing Art – Guided Looking 1. What do you see? What do you actually see? Line, shape, color, etc. 2. What else do you see? A chance to look deeper. 3. What’s going on? What do you think is happening in the artwork? 4. What makes you say that? What evidence do you have?

Color is produced when light strikes an object and reflects back into your eyes. This element of art has three properties: Hue – the name of the color (ex. Red, yellow, blue) Intensity – the purity and strength of the color (ex. Bright red or dull red) Value – the lightness or darkness of a color Form is three-dimensional. It encloses space and takes up space. Can be geometric, man-made, or free-form. Space is defined and determined by shapes and forms. Positive space is where shapes and forms exist; negative space is the empty space around shapes and forms. Texture refers to the surface quality or “feel” or an object – smooth, rough, soft, etc. Textures may be actual (tactile, felt with touch) or implied (visual, suggested by the way an artist has created the work of art.)

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Artwork courtesy of NPR “When They Were Young”

Syracuse Stage Dept. of Educational Outreach (315) 443-1150

A Message From the Director Dear Educator, I am very pleased to introduce you to our second season of Project Blueprint, where scientific discovery and the arts connect! This year we are bringing back our very popular character Leon Theremin, the Russian engineer who invented the first electronic instrument that bears his name. The Theremin was used for movie soundtracks and is most commonly associated with science-fiction films of the mid-20th century. Leon Theremin’s story is as strange as the music his invention produced, and includes fascinating tales of his associations with the great thinkers of the last century, including Albert Einstein, as well as tales of espionage and intrigue. We guarantee your students will be fascinated! Leon Theremin’s story provides wonderful insight into many disciplines: science, mathematics, music, U.S. history, and world history, to name a few. We have provided these materials for you to integrate Leon Theremin’s visit into your curriculum, but don’t stop there. Additional resources are listed in the back of this guide, to give you a spring-board for more in-depth study. Thank you for engaging your students with Project Blueprint! Enjoy!


Lauren Unbekant Director of Educational Outreach Syracuse Stage

Syracuse Stage Dept. of Educational Outreach (315) 443-1150


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The Life and Times of Leon Theremin Including Russian History

1928 - Theremin patents an improved version of the Aetherphone, with its new name: the Thereminvox (or simply, the Theremin.) Electronics company RCA agrees to build a huge number of Theremins to be sold.

1894 - Tsar Nikolai Alexandrovich Romanov takes the Russian throne after the death of his father, Alexander III. Russia has been in a state of civil unrest for decades. Meanwhile, acts of violent Anti-Semitism (called ‘Pogroms’) are destroying towns and killing thousands of Russian Jews. 1896 - Lev Sergeivich Teremen (Leon Theremin) is born on August 15th in St. Petersburg Russia. 1914 - World War I begins in Europe. 1917 - The Russian Revolution begins, and a full Civil War is declared shortly thereafter. 1919 - Theremin is studying at a technical institute where he attempts to create a device that could measure the density of gasses. He realizes that the machine creates such a strong electromagnetic field that, when amplified, it created eerie musical sounds. 1921 - Theremin files an early patent for the Aetherphone, as he originally called it. Also in 1921, the Civil War ends, and Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky take control of the newly-created Soviet Union. 1922 - The Aetherphone is unveiled at an electronics exposition in Moscow, catching the attention of Vladimir Lenin, who requests a private performance.

1929 - The American stock market crashes. RCA slows down its production of the Theremin because: 1) No one can afford it, and; 2) Those that can afford it can’t figure out how to use it. To this day, the difficulty of Theremin playing, and its limited production, have kept the instrument amazingly unknown in mainstream culture. 1932 - Leon Theremin conducts a performance of the first-ever all-electronic orchestra. 1938 - Theremin mysteriously vanishes from his home in New York, and reappears in Russia. Why? How? You’ll have to ask him yourself. 1939 - World War II begins, and Soviet Troops invade Poland. 1947 - Theremin is awarded the First-Class Stalin Prize (very prestigious) for his newest invention: an electronic listening device still used today and called by its original name: the “bug.” 1989 - The Berlin Wall falls, and the Soviet Union holds its first democratic elections since 1917. 1991 - The Soviet Union is dissolved. Also, Theremin returns to the USA and makes a few public performances. 1993 - Theremin dies in Moscow on November 3rd, at the age of 97.

1924 - Lenin dies and is succeeded by Joseph Stalin. 1927 - Leon Theremin moves to New York City. www.syracusestage.org www.myspace.com/syracusestageman


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Meanwhile, the electronics company RCA (still around today - you know, the ads with the little dogs) agreed to make and distribute a large number of theremins, which sold for $175 each. This was the Great Depression, however, and $175 was a small fortune for most people. This, plus the frustrating difficulty of the instrument, meant that it didn’t sell very well. To this day very few theremins are made or sold in the United States.

The story of Leon Theremin begins in St. Petersburg, Russia. As a young man, Theremin had two loves: music and technology. While studying physics at the University of St. Petersburg, he began work on a device that would measure the density of gasses. He noticed that when electrified, the device produced strong electromagnetic vibrations (it was a-shakin’ and a-stirrin’.) Curious, he connected his invention to a speaker to see if the vibrations were creating sounds. They were. And even better, the sounds were unlike anything he had ever heard before: musical yet eerie, like a choir of ghosts. He loved it.

Then, in 1938, something completely unexpected happened. Leon Theremin disappeared. Not even his wife knew where he had gone. There are many theories about what actually happened. Here is the most common:

Theremin unveiled his invention, which he originally called the etherphone, at a meeting of electrotechnicians (smarty-pants) in 1920. Soon word began to spread about the new music Theremin had discovered. It even caught the attention of Vladimir Lenin, who had recently taken control of the new Soviet Union after a bloody civil war. Lenin and the new government had big plans. They wanted to create a completely new form of government and prove to the world that Soviets could make breakthrough discoveries in technology and the arts. So the Soviet government forked over a ton of money to scientists and artists, and Theremin was no exception. He put that money to good use, taking his new instrument on several tours of Europe before coming to America in 1927. The crowds loved it. Theremin was like a rock star, in a science-fair kind of way. In 1932 he stunned an audience at Carnegie Hall by rigging the stage so that the movements of a ballerina produced etherphone music. She played the instrument by dancing. That night, the first-ever entirely electronic orchestra performed, with Theremin conducting. Theremin became a millionaire and began living it up in the New York social scene. Charlie Chaplin bought one of his instruments (which he was now calling the thereminvox,) and even Albert Einstein couldn’t resist bringing his violin over to jam with Theremin (true story.) He married Lavinia Williams, a black dancer, despite losing several close friends who were outraged by the mixed marriage. Syracuse Stage Dept. of Educational Outreach (315) 443-1150

Theremin was kidnapped by Russian secret police and taken to a Soviet prison for being a traitor to his country. He never did anything remotely traitorous, but times had changed and the new Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, was less interested in the arts than Vladimir Lenin was. The imprisonment may have been a way of forcing him to work on secret government projects. This was the Cold War (think: spy warfare, James Bond, etc.) and the Soviets wanted a microphone so small that it could be hidden in someone’s house or office without ever being found. Theremin did it. He called it the ‘bug,’ and we still use that name today. Meanwhile, in the good ol’ USA, Hollywood film directors realized that the theremin’s spooky sounds made a perfect soundtrack for horror films. A few decades later, mainstream musicians began to experiment with using theremins in their songs. But since the Soviet Union and the USA weren’t getting along so well (understatement,) American movies and music rarely made it to Moscow, and Theremin was unaware that his instrument was making a comeback. Theremin continued working and teaching in the Soviet Union, but he would not return to America until 1991. Two years later, back in Moscow, he died at the age of 97.


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How the Theremin Works

A musical instrument you never have to touch. No strings, no reeds, no valves. And yet it is considered one of the hardest instruments in the world to master. Its concept is as simple as the drawing on the left, but its technical components are as complicated as the drawing on the right. With so many contradictions surrounding the Theremin, plus the spooky sound it produces, everyone wants to know: HOW DOES IT WORK???

A Theremin has two antennae (see above.) Each antennae produces an invisible electromagnetic field around it. When you bring your hand into the field (it’s perfectly safe) the field has to change its shape to fit around your hand. The antennae sends electrical signals into the “body” of the instrument, and as your hand changes the field, this changes the kind of signals being sent. When you put these signals through an amplifier and a speaker, you hear sounds. These are the sounds of magnetic energy interacting with your own body. The antennae on the right controls the pitch of the sound (bringing your hand closer = higher pitch), and the antennae on the left controls volume (closer = louder.) This is a very simple explanation of a complicated scientific principle. For more information, check out some of the links at the back of this study guide.

Hear it Yourself!

Pretty smart for an old guy, aren’t I?

A few bands that use the Theremin: The Beach Boys (Good Vibrations) Led Zeppelin (Whole Lotta Love) Phish Also, listen to the background muThe Pixies sic in most horror films: especially The Flaming Lips the old black and white ones you Mars Volta see on TV late at night. Spooooky. One Ring Zero www.syracusestage.org www.myspace.com/syracusestageman


Syracuse Stage Dept. of Educational Outreach (315) 443-1150

Theremin and the Big Apple Life in NYC 1927-1938

When Leon Theremin came to the United States in 1927, he headed straight for New York City. Why not? In the 1920’s New York may as well have been the nation’s capital, or the world’s capital for that matter. Even as the Industrial Revolution swept the nation in the late 19th century, American culture and spirit were still very much influenced by Europe. When the first world war ended, America became a world superpower overnight, and no city was home to more advances in culture and technology than New York City. The ‘Roaring Twenties,’ as it has been called, was a decade of extravagance. New York is where celebrities and leaders of nearly every field came to join a booming social scene. The charismatic (and as it turns out, corrupt) mayor Jimmy Walker embodied this spirit in Town Hall. In Harlem it was writers like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston who spurred a new Renaissance. Jazz became the backbeat of the city at now-historic locations like the Cotton Club and Connie’s Inn. Visual art entered the modern era in movements such as Art Deco, surrealism, Dadaism, and in the photography of Alfred Stieglitz. Writers like Ernest Hemmingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and T.S. Eliot could be seen at lavish New York parties, as could be seen at lavish parties, as could Albert Einstein, Harry Houdini, and of course Leon Theremin. The stock market crashed in 1929, kicking off the infamous Great Depression. Industry and agriculture were hit hard by the depression, but high society managed to stay relatively intact. Movies (now filmed in color and sound) and radio served the public as welcome diversions from economic hardships, so celebrities still flocked to New York. In 1931, the Empire State Building was completed - the world’s tallest building at that time. The Depression put the brakes on distribution of the Theremin by RCA, but Leon Theremin remained a popular performer and expert on electronic technologies.

Photos: Above, construction of the Empire State building. The Chrysler Building can be seen. Top Right, the New York skyline in 1932. Right, the famous Cotton Club. Syracuse Stage Dept. of Educational Outreach (315) 443-1150


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RESOURCES The Theremin is a complicated instrument, and the man who invented it was pretty complicated too! We couldn’t possibly fit it all inside a little study guide. Check out these websites, and see what we missed!

For Information on Leon Theremin:

www.who2.com/leontheremin.html/ www.musicianguide.com/biographies/1608000933/Leon-Theremin.html/

For Information on the Theremin musical instrument:

www.oddmusic.com/theremin/ www.thereminvox.com/ www.thereminworld.com/

For Information on Russian history:

www.geographia.com/russia/rushis01.htm/ www.studyrussian.com/history/history.html/

Plus... Visit: www.syracusestage.org And now you can be Stage Man’s friend at: myspace.com/syracusestageman

TALKING TO THEREMIN When Leon Theremin visits your class, you will have the opportunity to ask him any questions you like. If something he says makes you wonder “why?” or “how?” make a note of it, and ask him when the time is appropriate. The subjects in this study guide make good topics, but there are plenty of other questions to ask. Be creative! What do you really want to know? You will also have a separate chance to question the actor playing Leon Theremin. Ever wondered how an actor researches and prepares for a role? Want to know what acting is like as a career? What’s the difference between playing a historic character and a fictional one? Again, be creative! This is your opportunity. Use it!

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Syracuse Stage Dept. of Educational Outreach (315) 443-1150

Profile for Syracuse Stage

Leon Theremin: Strange Music 2008  

Leon Theremin: Strange Music 2008-Study Guide

Leon Theremin: Strange Music 2008  

Leon Theremin: Strange Music 2008-Study Guide

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