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The keys to history

Harpsichord musician to perform at UAlbany

— Most people’s passion for music stems from performing or listening to it.

And, sure, David Schulenberg has spent countless hours playing historic keyboard instruments and listening to music of all kinds.

But early on, he was intrigued by something deeper — music as a “learned, scholarly discipline.” He was captivated by music’s role in culture, how it was woven into paintings and literature.

“I was always fascinated by music history,” he said. “What was music like before the music we hear today?”

Not every college or university gives students an opportunity to explore that. But Schulenberg’s alma mater, Harvard, did. So he scrapped his plan to study biology and became a music major. Today, the Delmar native is a professor and chair of the music department at Wagner College on Staten Island and teaches historical performance at Julliard.

He returns to the Capital District on Friday, Sept. 23, for a concert at the University at Albany. Schulenberg will present a program of Harpsichord Music of Four Centuries at 8 p.m. at the Performing Arts Center on the uptown campus.

Given his ties to the area – he still has family who lives here – Schulenberg had always wanted to do a recital in Albany. The field of music research is a relatively small one, he said, and he was fortunate to meet Albin J. Zak, the chair of UAlbany’s music department, at a conference. They talked, and Zak made the arrangements for Schulenberg to perform.

He noted with a laugh that he and Zak study very different fields within music history. While Schulenberg’s specialty is early music, Zak’s is popular music, particularly rock and roll. He’ll give the inaugural lecture at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s new lecture series on Wednesday, Oct. 5.

The harpsichord, a keyboard instrument that gained popularity in Europe in the 1500s and is often considered a forerunner to the piano, isn’t as far off the beaten path as it might seem at first glance, though, Schulenberg said.

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