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He's in Harmony With History

March 18, 1987|DEBORAH CHRISTENSEN

--Harpsichord maker Peter Redstone is a man in tune with the past. In his ramshackle frame house on an isolated country road in Claremont, Va., the British-born Redstone painstakingly handcrafts the instruments that inspired 18th-Century composers Bach, Handel and Scarlatti, sometimes taking up to a year to finish just one. His love of harpsichords started at age 3, when he took one apart. At 15, he built his first clavichord with parts of a reed organ, electric heating wire and brass fishing wire. "And it worked," he said. (A clavichord, like a modern piano, produces sound by striking strings. In a harpsichord, the strings are plucked.) Seventeen years ago, Redstone abandoned a career as an engineer for RCA to make harpsichords full time. He is one of only 119 harpsichord makers in the United States, but Redstone, 50, believes his craftsmanship is "one of the most authentic of all. My instruments are still held together by wrought-iron nails." His only concession to the 20th Century is a power saw, which, he says "is merely to take the place of unpaid apprentices."

--It was a real tug of war, but Capt. Arthur J. Fournier's 1-cent bid for the honor of performing the annual turnaround of the USS Constitution in Boston Harbor beat out his nearest rival's bid of $1. The ritual, during which the Constitution fires its cannon in a Fourth of July salute, has become an Independence Day tradition in Boston. The tugboat skipper estimates it will cost his Belfast, Me., company about $2,500 to turn the 189-year-old frigate known as Old Ironsides around. "It's a patriotic privilege," said Fournier of the turnaround, which is done to ensure that the ship weathers evenly.

--In an effort to discourage the longstanding practice of paying for brides in the Arab nation of Oman, Sultan Kaboos ibn Said has decreed that no man should pay more than 2,000 riyals--about $5,160--for his bride. "Women are not a commodity to be sold or bought," he said. At least not for that much.

--The early bird may get the hangover in Beaver, Pa. It seems that the fruit on a certain plum tree fermented over the winter, and about 20 robins and gray waxwings went on a bender munching on the fruit. William Bauer, president of the Community College of Beaver County, where the tree is situated, said many of the birds seemed to be staggering and others missed attempts to land on branches. "The fruit starts to rot and ferment and it makes plum wine. They eat fruit like that and get bombed out of their minds," said bird expert Scott Woods.

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