KPC librarian finds perfect instrument for orchestra

Just the right type

Posted: Friday, October 06, 2006


  Kenai Peninsula Colleg library director Jane Fuerstenau's collection of old typewriters helped get the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra out of a jam. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Kenai Peninsula Colleg library director Jane Fuerstenau's collection of old typewriters helped get the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra out of a jam.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

A group of local orchestral musicians recently found themselves in scramble as they searched for an instrument few people bother with anymore, but is central to a piece the musicians are playing at a fundraising concert tonight.

“It’s so funny because just about everybody used to have one and now nobody does,” said Maria Allison, one of two producers for tonight’s Evening of Classics concert in Soldotna.

With just a couple of weeks left to practice before the concert, however, Allison found a woman at the Kenai Peninsula College Library who had what she and the musicians had been looking for.

“She just looked very harried and she said ‘Would you have a manual typewriter?’” said Jane Fuerstenau, the library’s director.

Allison explained one of the orchestras playing in the Evening of Classics, the Redoubt Chamber Orchestra, needed it to play a piece known as “The Typewriter” by composer Leroy Anderson.

Fuerstenau surprised Allison when she pulled an antique manual typewriter off a shelf in the library.

“She said, ‘Oh my gosh you actually have one,’” Fuerstenau said.

But having collected and sold many manual typewriters for years, and being familiar with the music piece Allison had referred to, Fuerstenau said she could probably offer something that would better suit Allison’s needs.

“All the way through it there’s the tap, tap, tap of the typewriter, punctuated by the bell,” Fuerstenau said, referring to the music piece. “It’s very fast typing ... and the keys need to be able to respond quickly.”

When she returned home, Fuerstenau unpacked six typewriters she thought might be good candidates from the loft where she stores her collection.

For esthetic reasons, Fuerstenau likes typewriters produced before World War II, but on these models the keys move slowly, so she instead selected a typewriter with fast keys from the early 1960s.

“And it’s portable. Most of my favorites are the big 50-pound, full-size typewriters that they would have used in the 1920s,” she said. “And that’s really not what you want to be hauling around to a music performance.”

When asked what had originally sparked her interest in manual typewriters, Fuerstenau said she first started collecting them after she had read a New York Times article five years ago about a man who collected them.

Reading the story, Fuerstenau became nostalgic for manual typewriters and started buying broken ones cheap on eBay and fixing them.

Fuerstenau’s history with manual typewriters goes back to high school and extends through her college years, when most of her colleagues where using electric typewriters.

But Fuerstenau said her manual typewriter remained a commodity since it allowed her to type anywhere, including the dorm where there was only one electrical outlet.

“I was very popular because I had a manual,” she said. “I would take it outdoors, I could be just about anywhere.”

Other students went to a lab to use electric typewriters where the click of rows of students typing could be very loud, she said.

While some people still have manual typewriters today that they display like ornaments on shelves, few have working manual typewriters, which probably made Allison’s search even more difficult, she said.

The typewriter Fuerstenau lent to Allison is one that she bought for her daughter, who had become fascinated with her collection, she said.

Allison said the musical piece featuring the typewriter is one of a couple of the unusual and humorous pieces that will be played during Evening of Classics tonight.

In addition to the “The Typewriter,” the concert will also feature other music played by Redoubt Chamber Orchestra and music played by Central Peninsula Youth and Community Orchestra and several small ensembles.

The concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. at Christ Lutheran Church. Admission at the door is $10.

Admission fees from the concert will be donated to support the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra.

Patrice Kohl can be reached at

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