celeste dynamics

Any celeste/celesta experts around here?

I’ve recently heard two conflicting statements about dynamics on the celeste or celesta (whichever way you want to spell it). Having never touched one, let alone played it, I can’t find out for myself what is true.

One person I talked to (a fellow composer, NOT a keyboardist) claims the instrument is pretty much an mp sort of thing, with very little dynamic range, and that the force with which you hit a key has very little to do with the volume of sound produced. Another person says that a ‘really good’ celeste has an ‘incredible dynamic range,’ very similar to a good piano.

Both statements can’t be true. Anybody out there ever actually played one, or otherwise know for sure what the answer is?

(I should add that in Dorico with the default Halion sounds, a part for the instrument plays back very loudly no matter what dynamic is specified.)


Maybe the one I played (not very often) wasn’t a really good one, but it didn’t have anything like the same dynamic range as a piano. If you want tuned percussion with dynamics, go for a vibraphone or a marimba.

It is a quiet instrument, in the sense that if you try to play it too loud, you get a lot of out-of-tune overtones from each note that don’t sound much like a celesta, and don’t sound like anything nice at all.

Note there are also keyed glockenspiels, which may be wrongly named as celestas but sound quite different - much brighter and louder, and a much “cleaner” sound.

To add to what Rob said: in my experience, if you try to play too quietly the key just goes down with a dull thud and doesn’t actually strike the note.

At about the same time I posted the opening post in this thread, I also sent an email to the principal keyboardist of a modest but professional symphony orchestra. He has now replied, and he says it depends on the quality of the instrument. He says cheap ones don’t have much dynamic range, but top quality (and therefore expensive) ones do, especially in the lowest octave of the keyboard, where it can easily (he says) achieve pianissimo. Just thought I’d share that additional and independent feedback.