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MMD > Archives > July 2008 > 2008.07.30 > 04Prev  Next

Fair Organs Should Play More Modern Music
By Nigel Perry

There has been an awful lot of discussion on this subject, and
maybe my comments are superfluous, but I have had a go at this.
Since retiring to France, I have spent the last 12 months building
a MIDI controlled band organ from scratch.  MIDI control because
(a) I would probably be dead before I had concluded the construction
of a traditional instrument and (b) because I couldn't afford to
buy hundreds of punched books.

Living in France, whilst tranquil and mellow, does have its drawbacks!
I have had a nightmare sourcing wood, pipes, electronics, etc.  However,
with the encouragement and patience of Bob Essex, and input from many
other people, I now have a 65-note(+) fully chromatic instrument.

It has ex-church organ wooden flutes, piccolo, clarinets, viol and
bourdon.  There is a glockenspiel, accordion and sundry percussion
instruments.  I have concocted a very passable trumpet sound from
a section of harmonium reed chest.  The design has come entirely out of
my head, with the help of pictures and drawing of other instruments.

The MIDI control has allowed me to play a multitude of music, from
Elgar's Nimrod, through Widor's Toccata, much fantastic traditional
fairground music, to Grease (but not for long)!  The orchestration and
editing is also great fun.

Some orchestration is a battle, and it can take a long while until
I am sufficiently satisfied to give a public performance.  My sister
came to stay and she has little musical interest.  As she arrived
and pulled into the drive, my machine was belting out Colonel Bogie.
Her comment was "Charming!"

Later, I asked, "You didn't appreciate the being welcomed by the
band, then?"

Her reply was, "Can't you get the thing to play modern music?"
(My sister is 62, four years younger than me!)

I asked what she meant by 'modern'.  She replied, "Well, the Beatles
or Abba, or something."  I pointed out that we were talking about music
from 40 and 30 years previously, and hardly 'modern'.

So, I thought that I would set about orchestrating a piece from
"Grease".  I have to say that, after much diligence and thought,
fine tuning and programming, 'Summer Nights' sounds... ridiculous!
One might just as well try to play the 1812 Overture on bagpipes!

Originally, band organs and fairground organs evolved to suit the
music of the day.  I built my machine because I love that kind of
music.  However, there are also many classical pieces which, given
thoughtful orchestration, can sound very pleasant indeed.

The young Frenchman who did quite a bit of building work for us
has watched the development of this machine with keen interest.
His initiation into mechanical music was when he help me trundle my
pianolas into the music room that he had just built for me.  He had
never even heard of such a machine and was totally enthralled.

When I first let rip on the band organ he came running from the house
he was restoring up the lane, and arrived in my workshop wide-eyed and
breathless.  He stood with tears in his eyes as the music burst forth.
I have to admit that I was also similarly moved.  I still am, when new
pieces come to life.  I am thrilled with what I have achieved.  But the
audience will always, I fear, be restricted.

There is a glimmer of hope, though, because my grandchildren can't get
enough of the instrument, and maybe I can encourage them to continue
where I leave off.

Best wishes,
Nigel Perry

(Message sent Wed 30 Jul 2008, 19:55:50 GMT, from time zone GMT+0200.)

Key Words in Subject:  Fair, Modern, More, Music, Organs, Play, Should

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