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MMD > Archives > February 1997 > 1997.02.06 > 08Prev  Next

Mechanical Music for the Masses
By Troy Taylor

I have been reading the MMD for several months now, and I have apprec- iated all of the information that I have received. (I originally joined to get additional information about my father's Melville Clark player. Thanks much to all who responded!)

As I am only 21 and have little first-hand experience in repair and restoration of MM instruments I have only listened up to this point. I wanted to take this opportunity though to address a topic brought up by Mr. Goodman regarding the future of many of the great MM instruments, and the views of many young people regarding these devices.

I would say that Mr. Goodman is absolutely correct when he states that there is little interest amongst people of my generation in the great player pianos and nickelodeons of days gone by. This is regretful, and is cause for concern amongst those people interested in preserving these wonderful machines for generations to come. I would have to say, though, that in my view this disinterest is caused by other reasons than apathy regarding our past and/or culture.

Since most of the functional machines that exist today are housed in private collections that are not open to the general public, few people (especially those my age or younger) are ever exposed to these great instruments. One cannot honestly be described as apathetic about something which they do not even realize exists.

True, there are museums with displays,(and these must be given their due credit for helping out considerably) but those instruments are largely on _display_ only. For someone to truly appreciate the magnificence of the music they are capable of producing, one must be able to both see _and_ hear the music in all its glory.

I have been pumping my dad's player piano for friends my age for years, and I have yet to encounter anyone that discounted it on the basis of out-dated musical selections, and I have actually been successful in convincing them to sing along to tunes that only their grandparents would remember. Not all, but many people my age today are more accepting of non-rock/rap music than they are given credit for, and I for one would not want to hear a vintage nickelodeon playing contemporary music either.

Friends that have grown up listening to amplified guitar music as the musical standard may not rush out and buy a collection of Scott Joplin rag (for example) CDs, but neither will they dismiss it as garbage simply because it does not conform to the amplified rock "standard". Most actually comment the other way, noting instead how enjoyable it is to finally hear something that is different.

My playing of a few rolls for my friends has generated some interest amongst a few young people, and I would say that given a similar opportunity that interest could also be generated amongst many young people anywhere. This though leads to a major obstacle between young people and mechanical musical instruments today and that is: Money.

I for one have all of the interest and dedication necessary to operate and maintain a player piano/orchestrion/nickelodeon, and the willingness to research out the necessary information, but I simply lack the budget to purchase one of those items. It makes good business sense to get all you can for an item you are selling, and I am not trying to disparage anyone for doing this, but a natural function of this business behavior, especially amongst valuable antiquities, is that you price all but the affluent out of the market. Naturally people are only going to dedicate their time and efforts to a hobby that they can afford to participate in, and this largely leaves young people out of the mechanical music market.

Yes, one can buy a player piano in need of restoration for comparatively little money, but then one must either dedicate considerable time and effort to restoring it themselves, or pay top-dollar to hire someone with the expertise to do it for you. It is a skilled art, and one which is worthy of its price, but that is more than young people have to spend on an item which is for all intents and purposes a non-necessity luxury item.

As to nickelodeons and orchestrions, a debate over whether a given model is valued at $7000 or $9000 or $12000 is meaningless to those of us for which such a large sum is an impossible figure.

I would hope that those of you out there in possession of these wonderful instruments will make the necessary arrangements to insure that your instruments will be passed down to those people of my generation that will appreciate and maintain them for the next generation, rather than fall into disrepair from being pushed into storage by someone with no interest in their upkeep. As well-made as they are, it is no secret that with proper care and maintenance they will still be going strong when most of the products of today are landfill.

I don't know the solution to the problem, but as a young person today hearing those concerns I thought I'd put my two-cents worth.


Troy Taylor

[ Don't despair, Troy -- the Netherlands successfully rescued their
[ Street Organ heritage for all to appreciate, so there's hope that we
[ can do it in the States ! -- Robbie

(Message sent Thu 6 Feb 1997, 22:57:21 GMT, from time zone GMT-0800.)

Key Words in Subject:  Masses, Mechanical, Music

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