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MMD > Archives > June 2013 > 2013.06.28 > 03Prev  Next

Restore North America's Carousel Organs
By Dan Robinson

In his post in the 130626 MMD about a New England carousel organ that
was restored and then not used, Jack Breen raised an important question:
after an organ is restored, will it actually be played?

Jack wrote, "hopefully, this is an unusual story."  Unfortunately, it
is not unusual.  Like Jack, I will not name specific places here.

A carousel near me has had a very spotty record of playing its organ
since its restoration and MIDI conversion.  Another nearby had a new
organ upon opening, but that organ, I believe, has barely been used,
even after MIDI was added.  At a carousel a couple of hours away, the
recently rebuilt organ is only played by request.  And a recently
reopened carousel with a restored and MIDI-fied organ has opted for
recorded music some of the time, although that park has posted on their
Facebook page that the organ will be played during carousel rides (as
opposed to continuously, which is an acceptable compromise, in my

In all of these cases, I believe, the operators simply found the organs
to be louder than they were expecting.  (Incidentally, the recorded
music at one of these carousels is usually played at quite a low
volume, while another had no music at all when I visited recently,
which was quite sad.)

The factor of building acoustics should probably be mentioned.  Most
recently-built carousel buildings have a lot of glass and steel with
little, if any, absorbent materials.  Operators might find playing the
organs to be more palatable in old-style wooden buildings (although one
of the above examples is an old wooden building).

Then there are parks at the other end of the spectrum (which I will
name).  It was heartening to read Matthew Caulfield's post in the
130625 MMD about how quickly the band organ at Seabreeze Park,
Rochester, New York, was recently repaired.  The fact that the park
chose to shut down the carousel early rather than run in silence
(before resorting to recorded music for just one day) keenly
illustrates their awareness of the importance of real band organ music.

It was also encouraging to read in the same MMDigest of T. J. Fisher's
efforts to educate visitors about the organ at Glen Echo Park, near
Washington, D.C.  A couple of years ago, as I recall, the Glen Echo
carousel also used recorded music for a brief time while the organ was
down.  Both of these parks would resort to recordings only as a last
resort, not because employees don't want to hear the organ.

Knoebels (Elysburg, Pennsylvania), which has rightly been referenced
as a shining example of the use of band organs, even has backup organs
at the park.  I was struck by the fact that at Rye Playland, Rye, New
York, carousel operators requested that a specific roll be added to the
park's collection (as referenced in the 130613 MMD).  Another promising
story of late is the in-house repair of the organ at Casino Pier,
Seaside Heights, New Jersey, which is now playing for carousel riders
for the first time since 2008.

The question is, what needs to happen so there are more examples like
the second group here and less like the first?  The only answer I have
come up with pertaining to the first group is to pester the people in
charge until, hopefully, the organs are played.  It's been said before,
but a carousel needs operators who enjoy the band organ or at least
accept that it is part of the job if visitors are going to get the
whole experience.

Rich Sitler made the important point in the 130627 MMD that for an
organ to be used long-term, even one that plays by MIDI, a park needs
to have someone relatively nearby or on staff who can maintain and
repair it.  In the same MMD, Cecil Dover mentioned that he feels
fortunate to live close enough to Griffith Park (Los Angeles) that he
can stop by to get his "fix" there.  I feel similarly fortunate to live
near Seabreeze so I can do the same.

Dan Robinson - longtime Seabreeze season pass-holder
Rochester, New York

(Message sent Fri 28 Jun 2013, 19:12:27 GMT, from time zone GMT-0400.)

Key Words in Subject:  America's, Carousel, North, Organs, Restore

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