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MMD > Archives > January 2014 > 2014.01.22 > 04Prev  Next

Arranging Band Organ Music
By Matthew Caulfield

Mikey Mills' posting to the 140119 MMD about his virtual 165 band
organ "roll" brought these thoughts to my mind.  I am not talking out
of my hat here, because I have been around amusement park band organs
for almost seventy years, I have operated carousels for more than
thirty years, and have collaborated with the late Rich Olsen in
producing Wurlitzer 165 band organ rolls since he entered the field.

One important question is what is your motivation?  Another one is what
is your medium?  A third is what is your market?  And there are other
questions, but these three are the biggies.

Mikey says he is not in this to make money.  But does he aim for wide
listener acceptance of his arrangements, or will he be satisfied just
to do this for his own amusement?  If the latter, he is free to arrange
whatever he wants and however he wants.  But if he needs listener
acceptance, he must give his audience what it wants.

Right now Mikey is arranging into MIDI files, although he talks about
getting paper rolls made, which may or (more likely) may not happen.
As long as he sticks to the MIDI medium, the concept of a roll program
(what tunes should be combined to make a roll) is invalid or at least
irrelevant.  But when making paper rolls, the program becomes highly
important, because the listener can't pick and choose what is being

Should a band organ roll contain all marches, all waltzes, all oldies,
all modern stuff, or combinations of these?  Different people will have
different ideas on this; but if rolls are going to sell, the rolls have
to appeal to the majority of users, _not_ to the creator of the roll.
This leads into the question, What is your market?

If Mikey expects to sell rolls mostly to collectors, he can poll
collectors to find out what kind of rolls most of them like to hear in
their own concert halls.  But if he wants to succeed in the amusement
park and public venue market, he has to put together rolls that appeal
most broadly to the masses.  Those masses are made up of old geezers,
baby boomers, ex-hippies, and young kids.  Tastes run the gamut here.

Amusement park operators are going to buy rolls only if they have the
broadest possible appeal, which means mixing up tune types on each
roll.  The roll creator must largely surrender his taste preferences
to those of his market.

There are probably only a handful of people who have deeply explored
and studied Wurlitzer arrangements.  Most people don't give a hoot
about "calliope" music, except when it is ear-catching and sounds
good as they are riding a merry-go-round.  So anybody who tries to
make his arranging imitative of any particular style is wasting his
time completely.  Either your arranging sounds good and captures the
attention of an easily-distracted audience or you are simply indulging
in self-gratification, not in real arrangement production.

At Seabreeze Park, I can judge how good a roll is by noticing how long
people sit in our red rockers to listen to the band organ before they
get up to grab a hot dog or another ride on the Jack Rabbit.  Nobody
has ever said, "Oohhh, that sounds just like a 1921 Wurlitzer tune!"

Matthew Caulfield
Irondequoit, New York

 [ I believe most of the music rolls _purchased_ for instruments in
 [ a private collection will be chosen for the appeal to visitors,
 [ not just to the collector.  This is why successful music rolls
 [ play familiar tunes.  The staff at a carousel quickly complain
 [ that "the music is too loud", because it's not the music the
 [ staff kids are familiar with.  -- Robbie

(Message sent Wed 22 Jan 2014, 15:29:51 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  Arranging, Band, Music, Organ

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