I've been aware that it is getting more and more difficult to find a
capable person locally to maintain, tweak, and keep in good condition
mechanical musical instruments that are not easily transportable, like
band organs, orchestrions, and large disc music boxes.
Death and old age seems to be claiming experienced technicians, so
that there aren't always ones active within a decent radius of where
the machines needing attention are located. Techs like John Hovancak,
Mike Kitner, Ozzie Wurdeman and Max Nowicki in the U.S.A. and Johnny
Verbeeck in Europe have died, leaving a vacuum, while others like
Dr. Bill Black and Gavin McDonough no longer want to travel far to
take on jobs.
Seabreeze Park now falls into the category of needing on-site
maintenance and ongoing tweaks. For decades there was always a
member of the Long family, owners of Seabreeze Park, who was capable
of servicing the band organ. Then when Merrick Price died in 1996,
I took over. But now age is slowing me down and making it impossible
to carry on. I made the mistake of never looking forward twenty
years ago and training someone to do the work when I became unable.
The result is that we now have to call in Joe Hilferty from York,
Pennsylvania, when the organ is in trouble.
It is this same predicament that is pushing other amusement parks
toward replacing their operating instruments with electronic, recorded
music. People think that MIDI control is the answer, but MIDI replaces
only a small element of an automatic musical instrument [the music
roll] leaving the pneumatic valve work and everything else still in
need of upkeep.
Are there any currently-operating mechanical music experts who accept
newbies as apprentices that might want to learn the business? I don't
know of any. I think that at least two factors stand in the way of a
healthy apprenticeship program: good technicians are so busy they don't
have the time to train anyone, and training others is not something
that has much appeal for the best technicians active in the field.
Don't get me wrong. There are skilled and competent mechanical music
men all over the country, but given the time and travel expense and
scheduling difficulties, it is only practical to call them in for major
work. Scheduling alone is a big problem at Seabreeze Park. During the
summer months the park (and its organ) operates seven days a week,
eleven hours a day. During the winter months, the organ is in an
unheated building where temperatures hover in the forties Fahrenheit.
What is the long-term solution, not just for Seabreeze but for any
venue operating mechanical musical instruments?