Sunday, August 2, 2009

Historical Band Organ Show in Riverside Park

Have you ever been seduced by a machine?

This one is a valentine, suspended in time.

It is like, at the bottom of the papers in your desk drawer, the yellowed valentine from the one that got away.
The first of the many hole-punched paper rolls, powering these machines, that mesmerized me. Melody flows from this roll of unorthodox lace.

Dusty D watched the punched-out holes in the paper while listening and "saw" the music as it happened. A diagonal row of holes meant an ascending or descenting arpeggio. A long slitlike hole gave a drawn-out, held musical note, and a small round hole gave a short note.

The paper is rolling over a brass cylinder with a horizontal row of holes. When the moving paper's holes match those in the brass cylinder, the match activates an individual pipe or xylophone key in the organ, due to a differential in air pressure. The organs run on pressurized air generated from big bellows within them.
The drums on either end of the organs (here, the two round white discs) have their own holes on the brass cylinder -- slightly offset from the cylinder's horizontal row of holes corresponding to the other musical components.


Because it takes longer for the pressurized air to reach the faraway drums on the ends of the organ, so the drums are cued slightly earlier by the brass cylinder's offset holes so that they end up being in time with the rest of the music.

Dusty D lives for such details.

You think I'm kidding that I was rooted to the spot, staring agog at these paper rolls. Ha! Take a look for yourself to see how fascinating it is to watch music being made! And to hear the kind of music I heard today. The bit at 1:06 is particularly good.

The rolls are based on the Jacquard loom, which ran on punch cards and was the precursor to the computer. So this band organ is the second cousin, twice removed, to your laptop.

This spectacular organ was near the entrance of Riverside Park, on a trailer like the other large band organs, making a tinkling, pipe-organing clangor of enchanting beauty and nostalgia.

In back, the owner explained the works. Large horizontal bellows powering all the instruments are in the cabinet where his right hand is. He was one of about a dozen band organ owners who displayed their intricate old beauties. There were instruments once used as carousel organs, and also "band organs," which were large contraptions meant to replace live bands. They operated in dance halls and roller skating rinks back when.

This organ was painted with a lovely rural scene.

Next to it, the wife of the organ owner had her own charming crank organ.

She showed us the workings inside.

Handsome man cranks crank organ. It is literally impossible to crank this organ without breaking into a smile or giggling. So fun.

This intricate organ had two duck figures whose heads rotated back and forth. Some meddlesome child had his hand around Mr. Duck's neck, apparently trying to break it off. Dusty D's husband immediately and quietly said to him something a whole lot more diplomatic that I would have, and the brat left.
Bellows in organ. The second roll is for activating the head motion of Mr. & Mrs. Duck.

Some organs were "powered by MIDI," whatever that means, and had computers. I kinda thought that was cheating. But also fascinating -- if we think of a band organ as the weird offshoot of proto-computers, here was its great-great-great-great grandcousin, the laptop, come back to power his ancestor. Pretty cool!
In Depot Town, street organ grinders filled the air with tootly, tinkly period music; charming.

Street Organ grinder near the erstwhile Cady's. Dusty D left the festival mesmerized and utterly enchanted.

Last, below is someone's video roundup of today's show in the Park; enjoy!


Anonymous said...

As I learned this weekend, you haven't heard Johnny Cash's "Ring Of Fire" until you've heard it in the original band organ arrangement.

Dusty D said...

That sounds like a song played on the "castle" style band organ, in the east side of the park by the river, which was playing similar rock songs.

...the only organ there with castanets!

Truly an amazing fest. Dunno why the city didn't promote it--this was a fantastic event for staycationing families with kids. The kids we saw there were mesmerized.

cmadler said...

If you're still wondering about "powered by MIDI", take a look at - I think they're using a computer to replace the roll that tells the machine what notes to play. It would be a bit like if all the members of an orchestra read their music off Kindles instead of hard-copy sheet music.

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