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MMD > Archives > March 2018 > 2018.03.28 > 03Prev  Next

Raising the Profile of Mechanical Music
By Mike Walter

Hi all,  Mark Singleton asks why you would want to listen to a
music box.

If you check out Wikipedia under "Music Box", you'll find that the
"first" music box was introduced in the 9th century in Iraq.  From that
point on, there were various incarnations of the instrument to fulfill
various needs or whims, such as a musical snuff box or various other
instruments, usually as a variation of a clock.  Most of the earlier
instruments used a pinned cylinder to provide the means of striking
a tuned bell, chime or other musical device.  A number of instruments
appeared in the 18th century, being mostly made by clock makers.

By 1870, the first disc music box appeared on the scene.  This
invention allowed a means of easily changing tunes for the owner.
Before this time, the metal cylinder or wooden barrel was used to
"store" the music, and was usually an integral part of the machine,
not easily changed by an individual.  Up to this time, most of these
musical instruments were of European design and fabrication.  By 1890
American companies began making these music boxes.  Many of these
companies were of European ancestry, but they moved to the USA to be
a part of the expansion of the frontier.

You now have a small idea of "how" the industry developed.  From
the 9th century to the 19th century, there were very few individuals
who were schooled to any degree, especially in the musical arts.
An ordinary individual would have only an untrained voice to sing.
Those people who did acquire excess money to spend might be tempted to
purchase a watch to tell the time.  This watch may also be equipped
with a musical chime.  Clocks in the home came in different styles and
shapes, many with musical chimes sounding the hour.

Those individuals with some musical talent and an interest might have
the opportunity to purchase a piano, violin or banjo and learn how to
play that instrument.  The individuals without musical talent, would
have to depend on others to provide musical entertainment, thereby
providing an invitation to purchase a music box.

The reasons for listening to a music box could be

- Historical Reference.  Since many of us have European ancestry,
the music box may be a link to a person's history.  The music enclosed
inside the wooden cabinet could be the same music that a grandparent or
great grandparent might have heard or even owned.

- Social Reference.  The music inside the box also is also a marker of
music during a specific time period.  Just as the Beatles became _the_
definition of the mid 1960s and '70s popular music, the music box takes
us back to the 19th and early 20th century.

Since my wife and I are the oldest living relatives in our families,
we sometimes look back and say to ourselves, I wonder why we didn't ask
our parents...!  At least we have a part of their history with music
boxes and other automatic musical instruments.

Best wishes,

Mike Walter
Buffalo, New York

(Message sent Wed 28 Mar 2018, 14:49:23 GMT, from time zone GMT-0700.)

Key Words in Subject:  Mechanical, Music, Profile, Raising

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