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MMD > Archives > January 2001 > 2001.01.14 > 07Prev  Next

Mechanical Music on Display
By Craig Brougher

Nothing has ever actually changed, as far as the enthusiasm for old
automatic musical instruments are concerned.  When guests visit my
home, the first thing they all say is that they hope I will place SOFI
in a public place where thousands of people can hear her.  And they
stand there and listen for as long as I will play it.  Kids especially
really love her, and the fascination on their faces makes all the
effort worthwhile.  As technically simple as it really is, they are
awestruck.  And these are mostly kids who have never had music lessons.

But what has changed, in part, is the demand for really good
arrangements.  I say, "About time, too!"  Why spend $100,000 restoring
an instrument to play a dozen leftover rolls that survived only because
they were never played?  These big old instruments have such a
tremendous capacity to entertain.  It is "live music," after all,
and nothing can imitate live music, played right there on acoustic
instruments.  That is fascinating.  A loudspeaker?  There's nothing
fascinating about speakers -- doesn't matter what they're playing.
In a public place, anything on a speaker is just chewing gum for the
ears.  Speakers are taken for granted.  Live music is different.

There are only two kinds of music performed: the stuff that comes to
you over a loudspeaker, and the stuff that is played live at you, right
there in the very room you're standing in.  You'd have to be pretty
much unconscious to not appreciate the difference.  That is, unless the
machine isn't very good, very commanding, or the roll isn't too hot.

However, what we are talking about isn't the lack of enthusiasm of the
public, but the lack of enthusiasm of the owners.  Enthusiasm is as
contagious as the measles.  P.T. Barnum could sell anything, as long as
HE liked it!  That's because he was a real showman.  He knew exactly how
to furbish the environment, what to accompany the featured item with,
who to use to show it off to it's maximum interest potential, and how
to leave the audience gasping for more.  It's not a matter of time and
sophistication, or what's left over for an attraction in some remote
location out in a desert, somewhere.

I think we tend to lose perspective and vision quickly in the United
States.  This stuff is still just as exciting as ever, and fewer and
fewer paying customers have ever seen anything like it, as population
grows exponentially.  But you have to rebuild it back to commercial
standards so that it won't be tearing itself up.  You have to be able
to play it easily, change music often so the help won't get tired of
it, and always feed it good music (just another new roll isn't going to
fill the bill for long).  If your help gets tired of it, then you can
be assured that the customers won't like it.

Respect and appreciation by the establishment will sell the machines
and their music just like a collector creates a desire and a market for
his instruments by loving them, but it has to be great arrangements,
not mediocre, left-over stuff the termites didn't get.  And there's
nothing wrong with an electronic MIDI interface that can actually
parallel the trackerbar, providing these instruments with an infinite
variety of new tunes, without the problems associated with antique
rolls, worn spool frames, and clumsy help.  Songs that youngsters
know, but done in a new way.  Show tunes, advertising songs (with the
entire score) and light classics.

Pneumatics are the most reliable mechanical contrivances that there
are.  But when we use rubber coatings on heavy, coarse cloth, and omit
original dust filters and valve cover cloths; when we don't fully
rebuild things, like the pump flaps and seats, and replace things like
their little springs, then why shouldn't we expect to have more trouble
than they're worth, eventually?  It must be very discouraging for a new
owner to pay top dollar for restorations that won't even last them a

It's no wonder that people fail to have enthusiasm for dusty
old-looking instruments that play weakly if at all, and when they do,
it's some old pre-WW1 tune that no one is familiar with.  We should ask
ourselves, how would a real showman present this instrument in such a
way that all the magic and sparkle is brought right back, in a new way
that doesn't require a presentation or a buildup?

Simple.  You do it with a lighting change and the drama of a setting,
and you do it the same way the builders sold them to begin with.  We
still have their advertisements.  Just waiting for it to play builds
a certain anticipation.  But when it does play, it should take center
stage, and it must be worth the wait.  If the management is ashamed or
bored with their instruments and don't respect them, then neither will
the public.

Some people might say that no matter what you play on them, nobody
is going to recognize the old tunes anymore.  Well, that depends.  If
you've noticed, the background music, lead-in music, and theme music
for advertising and movies is 100% themes and bits and pieces from the
old classics and standards restructured into composites.  The only
product I know of that you can sell with acid rock is, "acid rock."

So we shouldn't worry -- the old pop classics, Disney tunes and show
tunes are instantly recognizable, and should be able to take advantage
of all the capability on these old instruments without any trouble.
(Suggestion: Arrange some 2 tune medleys -- In the Garden of Tomorrow
and, A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes.  Or how about, It's a Small
Small World, with the third movement of Jolly Coppersmith March?

See?  Nothing has really changed at all!

Craig Brougher

(Message sent Mon 15 Jan 2001, 02:04:53 GMT, from time zone GMT-0800.)

Key Words in Subject:  Display, Mechanical, Music

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