Sunday, 27 August 2017

USA 2017 - Laura with the Band organs part 2

After visiting the Herschell Company Caroussel Factory Museum Laura arrived back at Olcott beach after driving through a lakeside hamlet called Wilson, where Sasha collector Dorisanne used to spend her childhood summers

The band organ rally was in full swing with nearly 50 organs, large and small, playing in the park and in the street near to the Carousel Park.  And the weather was glorious.  The trees provided much needed shade in the blazing sunshine and Laura and her girl were pleased to relax and listen to a concert given by one of the larger band organs (built by its owner, a very good example of a home built organ) with a real live band of flute, clarinet, tubas, euphonium, trumpet and drum.  The music for the organ had been arranged to play with or without a live band and there had been no rehearsal, all the band members were sight-reading their (quite complicated) parts.  Recipe for disaster?  Not a bit - it was a brilliant 45 minutes of music, they had all done this kind of thing before and the organ was very good (the music was arranged on midi, with the owner playing Euphonium and controlling the start of the music via his small computer at the front of the organ). 

The live band plays with Trudy the organ as Laura rests on the table behind the band

Trudy the organ with the live band in Krull Park at Olcott Beach
See Stefan's video of Trudy and the band playing 'Florentiner March'.

After the organ and band concert Laura saw more mechanical organs which were using both old and new methods to play the music.  Many of them were paper roll playing organs which had also had midi electronic players installed so that they could play their old paper rolls or the new music programmed using midi.

An old Artizan band organ (from the Herschell Carousel Museum) which plays both paper rolls and midi music

The back of the Artizan band organ showing the double paper roll player (for a quick changeover of music, as rolls have to be rewound) and midi electronic action (below the paper roll players) controlled by the tablet computer on the left

This lovely Dutch street organ was built recently in The Netherlands and shipped to Canada. One of the side panels has a painting of the Niagara Falls on it.

Laura found icecream and fun in Olcott Beach Carousel Park.  This little amusement park was filled with rides for younger children and replaced the old, mainly for adults, Carousel Park which had once been in the Krull Park area.  Everything was in a clean, smart, well cared for condition and the rides were not expensive.

The information board about the restoration of the Carousel Park and the history of its carousel

The Olcott Beach Carousel - non travelling American carousels are in their own buildings

Laura liked the model boat in the Carousel Park

Laura pretended she was sailing

Laura had a ride on a Carousel horse in a small building which contained penny slot machines

Laura's Carousel horse (the romantic side)

In the early evening all the Rally people ate together in the Lions Shelter in Krull Park and this was followed by one of the organ people (who happens to be a very good wood carver of some beautiful organ facades) becoming Phineas Feelgood the magician. Laura's girl was called up to assist with the magic show which was a lot of fun.

Phineas Feelgood the Magician and his able assistant

Disappearing and reappearing foam balls trick

Most of the organs had closed up for the evening, however De Witte became one of the main evening attractions after the magic show.  The sun was setting over Toronto as some people gathered to enjoy a concert of music given by De Witte.

Saturday night sunset over Lake Ontario

De Witte serenades everyone at sunset

See my poor quality video (out of focus for most of it) of De Witte playing Dizzy Fingers or a much better quality video by Stefan of De Witte that evening ('At the sign of the swinging cymbal' from Pick of the Pops).

It was a magical evening.

On Sunday morning there was a small non denominational church service in the Lion Club shelter with all the hymns accompanied by some small street organs.

One of the small street organs which played hymns (with a parrot rather than a monkey)

It was another beautiful, hot day as Laura visited as many of the organs as possible.  Some were loud even if not large.  Band organs for fairgrounds were designed to 'take you by the ears and call you to the fair' (while street organs serenade you as you shop), the trumpet organs using the Wurlitzer music (even if they were made by other builders) were particularly loud.  Some such as Wurlitzer, Bruder, Gavioli and Artizan, had been built by organ builder companies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries either in Europe or the USA.  Some were more recently built by modern organ builders or enthusiasts who had spent many years researching, experimenting and making their creations for their own personal reasons, some copying old organ designs while others using a mix of styles and sounds.  Laura liked an organ made by a husband in memory of his beloved wife Judith Lynn, it did not have a carved façade but had lots of decorative fairground items surrounding the pipes instead.

Laura looking at a home built band organ 'Judith Lynn'

Carousel decorations for 'Judith Lynn'

'Judith Lynn' bass drum and pipes

A 1911 Military band organ by Wurlitzer

Information about the 1911 Wurlitzer which had even provided music for a movie once
In the street beside the Carousel park, under a covered walkway, so sheltered from the sun, was a long line up of small street organs ('monkey' organs), some very old and some quite new.  Laura got the chance to hand turn an old barrel organ which sounded very good (sometimes barrel organ pins become misaligned and the music doesn't sound so good).

Laura hand turns a barrel organ

Laura couldn't see the barrel in the organ as she wasn't quite tall enough

A very serious monkey

Laura had seen the animated monkey puppets before in Waldkirch so wasn't surprised to see a monkey dressed in lederhosen and a green felt hat sitting with one of the small street organs.  His name was made up of the first letter of each of the names of the owner's seven children.

Bardell the JA-FI marionette


A small street organ with animated dancing figures and marquetry decoration

A tiny table top barrel piano (a real honky-tonk sound)
Back in the park Laura encountered the most unusual and unique organ of them all - the Rock organ! The builder and owner had drilled a series of holes into a lump of granite and each note was produced by blowing air across the hole, a bit like playing a flute (it was another midi controlled organ).  Laura liked his hat - he looked a bit like Abraham Lincoln!

Real Rock Music by the Rock organ

The front of the rock organ, showing all the holes and metal tubes blowing the air across the holes


'Abraham Lincoln' plays rock music!

De Witte was playing at the other end of the park, Laura and her girl rested in the shade to listen to the wide variety of music which came from its pipes. 

Laura and her girl relax with De Witte

(See my video of a short extract of De Witte playing Mary Poppins or Stefan's video of De Witte playing Bach)

During this final concert the owner switched from midi to book music so I could film it playing one of the books I had hand-turned 28 years ago on the keyframe (book reader) I had assembled as an apprentice.

De Witte's owner prepares to play a real cardboard book on the organ instead of midi
It was very sad to watch as De Witte played her last book then the shutters were lowered (I was filming at the time, I admit to some tears).  Who knows when and whether we shall see her again, however at least we have some video, the new CD and 4 days of very happy memories of music and new friendships to treasure.

We walked down to the beach for toes to go into the waters of Lake Ontario.  The lake water level is much higher than usual so there isn't much beach at the moment, however there was a family swimming off a half submerged pier and having a lot of fun.

Laura's girl with her feet in Lake Ontario on the shingle upper beach

Lake Ontario on the glorious Sunday afternoon
After a meal in a nearby restaurant with many of the rally attendees and plenty of goodbyes, Laura returned to the park to hear the 'Diamond Jubilee' Gavioli organ (the largest band organ at the rally) play a final concert to close the rally as the sun set.  Those who had remained sat in camp chairs or on park benches and chatted in between pieces of music and everyone stood for the US national anthem which uses the same tune as the British national anthem!  Then the organ façade was lowered and the shutters closed as the Olcott Beach Band Organ rally of 2017 came to a close.

Diamond Jubilee plays the last concert at the 2017 Olcott Beach band organ rally

Sunday sunset for the band organ rally

Diamond Jubilee façade being lowered

Laura returned to the hotel and her Sasha and Gregor siblings - it had been a long and very happy weekend at the band organ rally enjoying 'The Happiest Music on Earth'.

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You may be wondering about the different spellings of Carousel in these posts - the Herschell Museum spelled it Carrousel on their building whereas most people spell it Carousel - I have used both spellings).


Thursday, 24 August 2017

USA 2017 - Laura with the Band organs part 1

After reluctantly leaving Gettysburg, Laura and her family travelled north through Pennsylvania to meet a lovely person and very special place: a private home containing a collection of beautiful musical instruments of various kinds, including player pianos and a Violano Virtuoso (by Mills Novelty Company) - a paper roll piano and violin player!  This machine is quite incredible and was produced in good numbers from 1905.  The violin strings are played via small electric powered rollers and chromatic metal 'fingers', with the bowing done by four small spinning wheels which apply the right pressure to the strings via a variable speed motor.  Even the tuning and vibrato of the violin is controlled by the mechanisms, it really is an amazing and complex piece of musical machinery (for a full description of how it works, see Mills Violano-Virtuoso).  It sounds good too.

Watching the Mills Violin Virtuoso playing

A close up of the violin and its complex playing mechanisms, with the player piano part of the machine behind


The Violano Virtuoso label


After listening to the Violin machine, Laura went outside to meet an instrument which 28 years before had travelled all the way from London to the USA to the first of several owners.  It is a large 90 key 'Dutch' street organ, based on De Harmonica which only a few weeks earlier Laura had seen in Waldkirch, Germany.  However De Witte is now a concert organ as some additional bass pipes and more percussion have been added, so it can play almost any style of music.  It was once hand-turned like De Harmonica but with the extra pipes it needs additional wind supply so it has a blower to supplement the bellows and reservoir now.

First sight of De Witte in its trailer which obscures some of the carved façade as it was built for 3 other much smaller organs

Laura listens to De Witte playing wonderful music

The back of De Witte, showing the big bass drum and the motor powered wheel to pump the bellows

On the back of the snare drum side case was a poster advertising an event which Laura was looking forward to with great interest - the Olcott Beach Band Organ Rally

The back of De Witte showing the snare drum and rally posters

Close up of the snare drum and the wood block beaters in the side case

The big base drum and below it some of the books of cardboard music which play in the organ when it is not being played using modern midi.  Some of these books of music travelled with it to the USA just after it was first built.

The keyframe in the back of the organ which reads the cardboard music

For the next 2 hours there was lots of listening to music, talking and relaxing before it was time to find our next hotel and dinner in a nearby town.  Saying goodbye to De Witte wasn't so hard when we knew we would see and hear it again very soon, it is an organ very close to our hearts as all those years ago we built it and this was the first time we had seen it since that time.

The following day Laura's road trip continued as she left Pennsylvania and entered New York State.

On the road north and entering New York State

It was a long journey with only one stop along the way (where Laura saw De Witte's trailer at the gas station as the organ was travelling too).  The traffic around Buffalo on a Friday afternoon wasn't too bad however Laura arrived at her next destination in North Tonawanda to discover that the museum would close in 20 minutes for the day!  However the box office very kindly allowed Laura to go in for a quick look around (especially as she promised to return the next day) and she had a ride on the Carrousel with her girl!

Herschell Factory Carrousel on Friday evening

Riding the carrousel on a rather sprightly looking horse

After finding the next hotel in Lockport (an Erie Canal town), Laura and her family travelled on to the shores of Lake Ontario to a small lakeside resort town called Olcott Beach for the Band Organ Rally.  Laura met lots of friendly mechanical music enthusiasts and plenty of organs, the biggest of which she settled down to enjoy on a perfect warm sunny evening by the lakeside in Krull park.  First she enjoyed listening to De Witte again then she listened to a large 89 key Fairground organ which had been built in 1897 in Paris by Gavioli (who also had a factory in Waldkirch).

Laura relaxes with De Witte

Laura with the Diamond Jubilee fairground organ by the shores of Ontario

The sun was beginning to set over the lake as Laura listened to the organ

As the sun started to set, De Witte's changing lighting showed the decorated façade in different colours
Laura was amazed that it was possible to see Toronto in Canada across the lake from Olcott Beach, 38 miles away.  The sunset that evening was absolutely spectacular, with the distinctive skyline of Toronto in beautiful silhouette.

Laura and her girl watch the sunset over Lake Ontario with Toronto in the distance
Friday night sunset over Lake Ontario and Toronto (click on these photos to get a bigger version so you can see Toronto)
It was the perfect end to the first evening at Olcott Beach Band organ rally.

The following morning, as promised, Laura and her family returned to North Tonawanda to visit the Herschell Company Carrousel factory museum.  Some amazing fairground attractions were built at the factory in its heyday with a large carving workshop for making the many different types of animal for the carrousel ride.

Allan Herschell Co. Inc Carrousel factory in North Tonawanda, New York State

There was a large photo of the carving workshop in action

The factory was also involved in supplying fairground (band) organs and the music to play on them - barrels then later paper rolls.

Laura was interested in the organ exhibits in the museum

Laura was pleased to see the pipes in this old Wurlitzer organ were labelled to show the different types of sound they played to imitate orchestral or band instruments

Laura was fascinated by the carving of a wooden horse

The carved saddle for the wooden carrousel horse was very detailed and beautifully done

There were pictures showing the carvers at work and the different stages of making the horses as different grades of carvers were responsible for each stage.  The apprentices and junior carvers did the basic body shapes, journeymen carvers worked on the details of the bodies and legs and the master carvers did the heads.

Laura was pleased to see that the art of wood carving is still going strong as the museum offers lessons
In the USA, the carved horses have their 'romantic side' the side which can be seen from outside the circle of the ride as the public climb on to find a horse.  On the other side which faces the centre of the ride the carving and painting is much less detailed. The public never seem to notice the difference.  American Carrousels go round in the opposite direction to English 'Gallopers'.  Later the animals would be cast in fibreglass using a mould, which was much lighter to carry when building or transporting a ride, cheaper to make yet still reasonably robust.  However fibreglass animals are not as detailed because their mouldings cannot be as deeply defined as can be achieved with wood carving, otherwise they would be difficult to get out of the mould.

The 'romantic' side of the horse

The other less detailed side of the horse

Carrousels produced at this factory didn't just come with horses, they had all sorts of different animals, some of which were on display.

Dog and Pig carrousel animals

A cockeral carrousel animal

Even a Zebra for the carrousel!

It had been so interesting to see how American Carrousels had been made, however it was time to go back to the Rally as Laura didn't want to miss any more of the fun, however her experiences at Olcott Beach Band Organ Rally are in part 2.