Today I struck another blow for passing on the heritage of automatic
music to the next generation. A local elementary school had an entire
day devoted to arts and crafts, whereby classes from kindergarten
through third grade spent 20 minutes each in about a dozen areas where
a local artist or craftsman gave a demonstration. Woodcarving, jazz
piano, weaving, storytelling, many others and -- a "hurdy gurdy"
presentation by myself.
The kids loved it! Between petting my hand-puppet monkey, watching the
bellows breathe, taking turns cranking (even rewinding was fun for
them), and asking all sorts of questions about me and the organ, we all
had a great time.
When I showed them the paper rolls that control the notes, I asked how
many kids had seen a player piano. In every class at least 1/3 of the
hands went up! Many kids already knew about paper rolls. Even though
many of these pianos were seen on TV, it shows that knowledge is not
dead. So let's stop crying doomsday and build on the still-solid
foundation out there.
Oh yes, most kids knew about how monkeys were supposed to take your
money. Somehow grandparents and children's books keep such tidbits
I explained that the holes in the roll played the notes, but that I
controlled the sounds through the stops as on a church organ. They
seemed to understand that just fine, and I let my "engineer/assistant"
monkey work the stops from then on.
I played them my arrangement of the "Maine Stein Song" and my own
"St. George's March", so they could see some musical creativity and
not just factory rolls. Also I pointed out that this was live music,
playing on the pipes. I had one class guess how many pipes were in
the organ; some boys got really close with 88 (it's 84).
Anyway, for those of you whose instruments might appeal to young kids,
and are sufficiently portable, make yourself known to your local
schools. Even if there isn't an arts-fair day, keep in mind that our
pieces of history are educational in every sense of the word, and
teachers are looking for something different to liven up the school
day. And the school setting saves you a lot of nerves -- the teachers
keep the kids in line and remind them not to touch anything, and can
send the kids past you in single file for a close-up look while you
Crank organs are the best for this: "The Happiest Music On Earth"
says my MBSI organ rally T-shirt, and the kids danced and swayed and
clapped to it. Other good instruments would be the cob organettes
and maybe music boxes if playing British Isles drinking songs. Maybe
a somber tune would work if you put the kids in mind for a sad story
and tell them to imagine a scene to match.
Mechanical music is fun -- pass it on!