Before W. Dale Guyer died on Aug. 22, he wanted to give his 1973 Burton harpsichord a makeover that would clean up its sound and appearance for when it’s played at Settle Memorial United Methodist Church.
However, Guyer, 80, wasn’t physically able to perform the necessary work that it would’ve required.
“Dale had been very ill the last couple years and he could never really work on it like he wanted to,” said Diane Earle, a longtime friend and Settle Memorial’s music director. “So we hired the best in the world to really fix it up and get it great musically.”
The repair task was given to Ted Robertson, who is Indiana University’s harpsichord technician.
While Robertson concentrated on the harpsichord’s tuning and voicing, his daughter, Thea, fixed the dings and scratches that had accumulated over the years.
Robertson said he became enthralled with harpsichords at an early age and has spent the past 40 years building and repairing them.
“I built them first when I was 14 because I wanted one but couldn’t afford one,” said Robertson, who lives in Bloomington, Indiana. “…I was just obsessed with harpsichords. …There are only a handful of builders left. It’s not as fashionable as it used to be in the 70s and 80s.”
Guyer, who was a pharmacist, built the harpsichord 47 years ago from a kit he purchased from Burton, a company no longer in business.
The harpsichord, which is the predecessor to the piano, has its strings plucked for its sound rather than struck like a piano.
Guyer’s widow, Suzanne, said her husband was a lover of baroque music — a period or style of Western art music composed from 1600 to 1750 — that featured the harpsichord. And German composer Johann Sebastian Bach was among the most famous baroque musicians who Guyer also admired.
“When he listened to Bach, he would hear harpsichord music,” Suzanne Guyer said. “…He just loved that music and he had a huge collection of Bach — mostly 33 (rpm) records.”
After Guyer built the harpsichord, it spent time at his home but also at First Presbyterian Church and Kentucky Wesleyan College before finding its permanent spot at Settle Memorial nine years ago.
Earle said she and Guyer would often travel together with the harpsichord so she could perform with it around the state, and even one time for a small gathering at Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn.
“I performed all over Kentucky and Indiana with Dale driving it in his van,” Earle said. “…I would be in the back steadying it when he went around turns.”
Earle added that thousands of people have heard Guyer’s harpsichord in its nearly five decades of existence.
“He’s just been very generous with it,” said Earle about traveling around with the harpsichord. “Generally, it’s been wherever I’ve been since 1984 because I was the main harpsichord player.”
Guyer built a second harpsichord as a memorial to a minister’s daughter at Harvey Browne Presbyterian Church in Louisville.
Suzanne Guyer and Earle said the harpsichord work is being done in Guyer’s honor and will remain part of Settle Memorial’s regular instrument collection and rotation.
“We know that he’s looking down and having good thoughts about all of this happening,” Suzanne Guyer said.
Don Wilkins, firstname.lastname@example.org, 270-691-7299