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.

3 comments:

Serenata said...

Wonderful interesting post brimming with enthusiasm for a deep love of the instruments. I am so pleased for you all that you got to see the organ you built, it really npmust have bbpeen a real treat indeed especially also getting to attend the rally. The carousel museum looked really interesting as well I would have loved to have gone to that. Wish I'd known about it when Henry and I visited Buffalo.

Nanna said...

How wonderful!! What a wonderful road trip! We love visiting different kinds of museums. Nottingham Goose fair always had a Herschell carousel with all the different animals! ( I don't know if they still do or if it's just modern thrill rides now ) I'm eagerly looking forward to the next part of your trip :) x

Kendal said...

So much to see and do and absorb here. I just love to learn new things.

Particularly enjoyed your visit to the Carousel Carving Factory as it reminded me of when I went down south to the family run Stephenson's Rocking Horse Factory to chose and order a Rocking Horse.
There I saw the various stages in action and was amazed at just what was involved in the making of these magnificent Rocking Horses starting from the original planks of wood.