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Music And Architecture

By Susan Sully for The Island Eye News

Parker Ramsey

Intricacy is the theme of the Bach Society of Charleston’s season opener, which features J. S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations as transcribed for and performed on harp by Parker Ramsay.

Scheduled for Sept. 18 at 7:30 p.m., the event will be held at the Unitarian Church at 4 Archdale St. in downtown Charleston. Lovers of Bach’s music know the Goldberg Variations as one of his most intricate and greatest pieces for harpsichord, having been recorded by Glenn Gould and others. About 45 minutes long, the work is a set of increasingly virtuosic transformations of a simple opening aria. The excitement increases with each variation, with ever more complicated counterpoint, until a repeat of the lyrical aria brings the work to a gentle close.

Lovers of Gothic architecture know fan-vaulting as an intricate, lace-like decorated form of stone ceiling, perfected in the 1400s, where pillars are crowned by scallop-shaped ribs that resemble a fan. The most famous example is in the Chapel of King’s College in Cambridge University in England.

Here in the Holy City, the ceiling of the Unitarian Church is also fan-vaulted. So what’s the connection between these two? Ramsay, who is wellknown to local and international audiences as an organist and harpsichordist, will be making his Charleston debut as a harpist.

He completed a master’s degrees on harpsichord from Oberlin and on harp at Juilliard, after gaining his bachelor’s from Cambridge, where he spent three years as Organ Scholar of King’s College.

Last summer, he returned to the Chapel of King’s College to record his own transcription for harp of the Goldberg Variations, having performed the original harpsichord version for his master’s degree recital at Oberlin.

The CD and download will be released internationally on the day of his Bach Society of Charleston concert, where the low lighting and vaulted ceiling of the Unitarian Church will recreate the mystical atmosphere of the original recording sessions.

 In view of the pandemic, seating will be limited in the church, social distancing will be observed and face coverings will be required. The church interior will be cleaned before the doors are opened. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased online at

For more information, visit or call Susan Sully at 843-9063521.

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