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Scott Kent, 1943-2020

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Logo for Kent’s artisanal record company

About to play the great organ at Methuen Memorial Music Hall many years back, the eminent soloist Christa Rakich asked a friend to check if recording engineer Scott Kent was in the house yet.

What does he look like?
Abe Lincoln in a blue-plaid flannel shirt, corduroys, and gray crocheted vest.
How do you know what he’s wearing if you don’t know if he’s here?
Because he always wears the same thing.

Scott Kent died recently, at 77, after some years of cardiovascular ailments following a stroke. His wife Marcia crocheted the signature vest, and as each one wore out, she would produce an exact replacement.

A sui generis audio good guy going way back in the Boston area and indeed across the Northeast, Kent not only took on the role of an accomplished, careful, generous engineer but also rewarded many of us as a go-to organ recordist and amateur scholar, with a prodigious memory and expertise over almost six decades.

Born in Chicago, Kent came to consider Wolfeboro NH his home base, his parents having built a cottage on Lake Winnipesaukee. He spent his summers there, directed the sailing program at the camp he had attended as a child, and sailed and skied there as an adult. He enrolled in Clark University and Worcester Polytechnic Institute but left after two years and moved to the Back Bay to work in electronics. He married and moved to Wilmington, got divorced a few years later while continuing his career in audio. He would commute to Gloucester in his Porsche, whose floor, after it rotted out, he replaced with a metal pizza parlor sign. Its restoration remained an ongoing project.

Around 1969 Kent began recording concerts as BKM Associates, including the weekly Bach Cantatas at Emmanuel Church, which is where he and Marcia met. He established AFKA records three years later after meeting Don Angle at Dowd Harpsichord in Cambridge; Angle played jazz harpsichord and wanted to record. This began Scott’s work in that field including editing, mastering, and production. More than 300 AFKA records, cassettes, and CDs ensued.  Kent also served as an adjunct professor at UMass-Lowell in the highly regarded recording technology degree program.

His marriage with Marcia lasted 47 years, and his daughter, Julie, from his first marriage, also survives him.

A portion of Scott Kent’s recording discography, more than 70 listings, may be found here. Over 50 pending submissions will reveal more of this discography, including the more than 650 recordings he made of Methuen concerts, as well as so many recordings from the Organ Historical Society and BAGO conventions, Old West and Portland City Hall organ series, the Merrimack Valley Symphony Orchestra, and much more including work for Northeastern Records.

Fifteen years ago, in order to produce a 4-CD set of recitals the legendary Anton Heiller recitals (link is safe despite warning)  had recorded on the Fisk Opus 46 in Harvard’s Memorial Church during the late 1960s and early 1970s , Josiah Fisk and I turned to Kent, the obvious choice for editing, mastering, and technical production. His efforts turned out to be simply heroic, entailing everything from overall tonal rebalancing to to practically measure-by-measure gain adjustments and detailed removal of clicks, tics, and the like. Typical.

I  had first met Kent back then, a half-century ago now, as a budding music critic and audio enthusiast. At early meetings of the Boston Audio Society, heavily attended by intellectually intimidating guys with slide rules and calculators, Kent stood tall among the many others who went on to distinguished careers in audio, technical advancements, product design and electronics journalism as well as recording. He was expert at tweaking tuners when FM was the chief source of highest classical music reproduction, and as noted he was even more expert at tweaking the highest-end open-reel tape recorders. starting in 1972, the BAS Speaker newsletter regularly featured his tips, tricks, solved problems, and gear anecdotes. Easygoing, a good writer and talker, Kent leaves with me memories of great conversations and collaborations.

Several local note worthies have shared their fond memories with BMInt.

Christa Rakich:

I made my first two CDs with him, both on the Kilgen at St. Justin’s in Hartford. He was unflappable, steady, meticulous. He had a very precise way of coiling and packing every cord. He could not be rushed. And he produced a first-rate product. The world has lost a first-class guy. I loved that [his wardrobe consistency] about him.

Recording engineer and audio journalist Brad Meyer:

We have lost a huge amount of knowledge and ability with all kinds of gear. The last time I saw him was when I picked up my [Revox] A-77 from him about three years ago — it had gotten badly clogged from unbaked shredding tapes and he managed to clean the heads after much effort.

Organist and music director at Immaculate Conception Malden/Medford Rosalind Mohnsen:

I met Scott and Marcia Kent when Scott started recording at the MMMH in 1979. Later that summer, I was part of the adventure known as “A Pfeffer Odyssey.” Scott managed this entire adventure, from reading the maps, to finding our way around Missouri roads, driving the van, lugging the equipment, recording and evaluating the performances, holding everything together, and finally, producing the LP A Pfeffer Odyssey. Here is the first paragraph of what Scott wrote for the record jacket:

 Midmorning, on the Friday following the 1979 OHS Convention in St. Louis, a party of seven set out with the goal of recording at least four of Pfeffer’s organs for this documentary. Three of five possible organs were in unknown condition, and neither organist had played any of the instruments. A single disc of music usually requires two or three six-hour recording sessions on separate days, generally at the same location. We proposed to record sufficient material for two records in three days, and to drive almost 500 miles, leaving a wake of repaired instruments behind us.

The performers were Earl L. Miller and myself, the tuning and repairs were done by Larry Trupiano, Phillip Hoenig, and W. T. VanPelt, the stop pullers were Stanley Hall and Jonathan Bowen, William T. VanPelt did the photography, and Scott Kent was recordist and producer. The two-disc LP was issued by the Organ Historical Society in 1983, with Norman M. Walter as executive producer. The AFKA label also appears on the record jacket.

Though Scott was official recording engineer for major venues, he also served other clients. He recorded numerous organ recitals I played in various locations, but also regularly put on his calendar our Annual Christmas Lessons and Carols, our Annual Ecumenical Palm Sunday Concerts, and our Annual Spring Choir Concerts at Immaculate Conception Church in Malden Mass. These recordings of church programs would total over 70. In addition, he would repair cassette players and untangle cassette tapes.

 Scott Kent really did keep the music world running!

 

Edith Ho, retired choirmaster and organist at the Church of the Advent Boston:

The Advent Choir made three LPs and one CD with him. He was very patient and kind and meticulous. Requiescat in pace. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Joyce Painter Rice, organist and music director of First Congregational Kennebunkport and Holy Family Amesbury and MMMH board member:

 Scott had a nigh uncanny memory for performances he had recorded. He had expert knowledge of the organ repertoire and clearly remembered so many players and their concerts.

Richard J. Ouellette, caretaker and secretary for the Methuen Memorial Music Hall:

 Scott recorded at Methuen from about 1976 to 2017, 42 years. With about 15 recitals a year, some years having 18 plus extras like the Scholarship concerts, that would roughly be 650 concerts! Scott did it as a labor of love for us. His fee did not change for many years and he provided a copy of the recording to our Archives and one copy to the artist. He probably just broke even with all the time and materials to record for us. I have taken over the Archives recently and just finished organizing and listing all the recordings that we have and filed them in chronological order. We lost a few years to the bad flood that we had in 2006 but the rest are intact.

I knew Scott pretty well and even stayed with him and Marcia at their summer home in NH a couple of times and went sailing out in Wolfeboro Bay. He loved the water and to sail. I took him once to a limestone quarry in Greenwich New York on a recording trip, which he enjoyed very much. Water was his way to relax. Scott also had a good sense of humor despite his serious look most of the time. I remember him telling me on one recording trip about his contracts. They usually provided for his food and lodging. One day somebody served him a vegetarian meal. After that he stipulated on the contract that meat be served as part of the meal. He needed meat to function right.

Scott was a pleasure to work with and had a very calming influence during what could have been very stressful times due to time restraints and other factors. I had 100 percent respect for Scott and he was always professional in his dealings with people.

He also had the ability to find the sweet spot for recording in a room. His Methuen recordings were excellent with the microphone placement to capture the organ plus the room.

Scott had an initial stroke about 10 years ago which caused him selective memory loss. He confessed to me that he lost his memory for a period of time that included part of the 1980s and 1990s. Anything that he learned during that period of time he had to relearn. He developed some of his own recording techniques which he had to reinvent. I do not know the specifics but only the gist of the problem.

Scott recorded many area organ concerts and he also liked to record the harpsichord. His company was AFKA recordings, which was a combination of initials of four people who started the business.

Scott obviously was important to me and I had a lot of interaction with him over the years.


Joyce Painter Rice 

How true that Scott had a nigh uncanny memory for performances he had recorded. He had expert knowledge of the organ repertoire and clearly remembered so many players and their concerts.  

John F. Allen, audio engineer, FM and tape recorder guru, like Kent a horn-loudspeaker maven, and installer of high-performance movie theater sound systems:

I have counted myself as extremely lucky over the years to have learned from so many of the top people in audio and acoustics. Scott Kent was one of those top individuals and one of the most important. It is not an exaggeration to say that I learned half of what I know about audio and all of what I know about tape recorders from Scott.

I first met him in the late 1960s. I was still in college and supporting myself with a part-time television and antenna business. I did several antenna installations for Sound Specialists, of Winchester Mass. Scott was their senior technician. It wasn’t long before we became friends. I soon began to appreciate his intelligence and depth of knowledge about all things audio. He knew the difference between conventional wisdom and reality, a quality hard to find in those days. Television and antennas were indeed my businesses at the time. However, music and sound, a hobby since age 12, were what I truly loved. For someone hoping to turn a hobby into a career, I couldn’t have found a better teacher. Whenever I had a question or needed more information about something, I would always call Scott. He was more than kind and generous with his time, taking as long as needed to answer my questions. Sometimes we just shared stories, even a few laughs. He helped me understand both the theoretical and the equally important practical side of things. I must have learned well. During his years teaching at the University of Lowell, he would occasionally ask me to fill in for him when he had to be away.

Scott may be one of the last home-based audio geniuses. He was always in demand as a recording engineer, especially for organs. His recordings were often heard on WCRB’s King of Instruments. He created a set of modifications for Revox tape recorders that made them sound so clean that you could switch from live to tape and not detect a difference. When I asked him if he would consider selling me kits so that I could modify the A-77s that I was maintaining at WGBH as well as WHDH, he said yes, prepared the kits for me and allowed me to install them.

In 1979, when Peter Mitchell wanted to take a vacation, he asked me to guest host two of his Saturday morning Shoptalk programs on WBUR. This was the first time I had been asked to host a radio program. I decided that my guest for both shows should be Scott Kent. With his extensive knowledge, as well as his remarkable gift for explaining technical subjects, he made my job very easy. We did one program on loudspeakers and another on tape recorders. Both of these programs can now be downloaded on the BAS website, bostonaudiosociety.org.

My grandfather once told me that the worst thing about getting old is watching your friends die. Losing my good friend Scott Kent has reminded me of my grandfather’s warning and really brought it home. Scott’s long friendship has been one I have valued and appreciated more than I can say. I will miss him. I can only imagine how many others would say the same. He helped me build my career, one that has taken me around the world. I will forever regret I did not know that he had become so ill. If I had, I would have made sure to call him to express my sincere and heartfelt thanks.

David Moran has been an occasional Boston-area music critic for 50 years, with special interest in the keyboard.

4 Comments »

4 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. To say that Scott Kent stood tall is an under statement…………..am saddened to learn of his passing and want to throw in the incredible talent he brought to Northeastern Records. In the 80s Lynn Joiner and Scott were able to produce prize winning recordings, and I was their A&R – suggesting new composers, Boston artists, Frohlich who ran the whole Northeastern office gave us a wide berth and funds. We got lucky with press and the public – few CDs about women, the Holocaust, Boston composers – Scott was a genius at improvising the needs at sessions, we especially cherished a purple shag bath mat under the piano pedals to squelch squeaks………..and going to his hoard of a house to edit….amongst a live bunny, me and D’anna, well as they say – the good ol days – and they don’t make ’em like Scott.

    Comment by virginia eskin — November 3, 2020 at 5:48 am

  2. Greatly saddened to learn of Scott’s passing. Thank you, David Moran, for this heartfelt obit. Scott’s occasional cleanings and updating modifications of my two Revox A-77s allowed me the chance of visiting him at least twice a year at his “hoard of a house” (well-put, V.E.!). He was always a pleasure to talk with at his workbench, where his ministrations were performed. He was polite – though stern with his cautions – when once sticky pine pollen had invaded the recording and playback heads of my Revoxes. He solved that problem, of course, with his usual professional aplomb. Though I did not know him particularly well, I was greatly impressed by his broad-ranging knowledge base and easy-going attitude. I’m eternally grateful for his release on AFKA of a recording by my cranky but revered organ professor Clarence Watters of Trinity College – a valuable document of an extraordinary talent. Thanks also for publishing that great photo of Scott in his ubiquitous cardigan. I wasn’t aware of its provenance. I will miss you, Scott!

    Comment by JohnW. Ehrlich — November 4, 2020 at 11:01 am

  3. BAGO has some further nice reminiscences, from Ray Cornils, Barbara Owen, and Martin Steinmetz (who was, with the Morley Lush family, instrumental in the Heiller@Harvard project), and others.

    http://www.bostonago.org/remembrance/

    Plus some additional historical details:

    Scott Kent passed away October 23 … survived also by his daughter Julie Anderson Kent. … began his career recording concerts in 1968 … when there was a program by several organists, he would give each a copy of the recording. The 2020 Cathedral Organ Benefit Recital was dedicated to Scott’s memory (Sunday Oct. 25) because of his nearly 30 years of recording at the Cathedral … a pioneer in a [low-temp baking] method of restoring premium backcoated recording tapes … called “the person with the golden ear” as he could hear defects in sound recordings that others did not … elected to be one of the eight Honorary Members of BAGO.

    Comment by David R. Moran — November 7, 2020 at 10:00 pm

  4. David Satz, another well-known and -regarded recording engineer who has done notable Baroque and organ work, emailed me:

    … in the 1970s we used to spend hours talking on the phone. He modified several of my Revox machines as well as an Advent Dolby B unit, and I still have two stereo mike preamps that he designed and built (evidently winding his own input transformers in the process).

    He once bought a Neumann stereo mike from me that I didn’t like the sound of — almost everybody who ever borrowed it was somehow able to get better sound out of it than I ever could, so I was glad for him to have it.

    Mostly I just liked his attitude. He listened well, and I definitely learned a lot from him.

    Comment by David Moran — November 8, 2020 at 7:13 pm

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