Boy, is Mechanical Music Exciting!

All I can say is that anybody who doesn’t know how interesting, exciting, and delightful, not to mention profitable, mechanical music is, is really missing out.

It includes music boxes, player pianos, orchestrions, juke boxes, modern MIDI stuff, organ grinder’s organs, all sorts of organs, including theater, church, and playground. All that good stuff. Even a flash memory with music on it falls in that category, but the old, European stuff, and of course, Radio City Music Hall’s thrills me no end.

I went on a tour of Radio City’s organ’s hidden marvels once. They’ve even got violins and a Steinway back there, all out of sight, but not forgotten, not at all. What did you think made it such a great place? But there is a lot more, of course, such as the curtain and the several stage elevators, including the round one in the middle, which rotates, the steam curtain, and organ consoles, two at the left and right, and one able to travel around, dragging a big, old, fat umbilical cable, etc.

The whole field is fascinating.

Invest in something, why don’t you? It’ll only go UP in value, whether today’s plastic toy or an ancient antique, and it’ll keep you merry (until you cash it in), too. Amaze your houseguests! You might even learn how to read music and play it, which is how one of my concert artist friends got started, fascinated as a little boy with how his father’s grand piano, with a player inside, worked, and what it was playing, and seeing if he could do that. I’m sure his parents never expected that. He even wound up making keyboard instruments in his garage, just for fun, all sorts of them.

You could even subscribe, for free, to the fabulous “Mechanical Music Digest” (“MMD”) I find in my inbox every day. It’s not too big, and the table of contents is very helpful. Just read whatever tickles your fancy.

Robbie Rhodes, the editor, besides being an excellent editor, knows a lot of arcane stuff and wonderful people. I don’t know how he does it!  It’s all sent in by contributors; you can even announce you want something, or to sell it. But I bet he could answer half the toughest questions himself, if only his expert buddies weren’t so clever, knowledgeable, experienced, and all that.  Collectors, makers, rebuilders, music lovers, historians…, everybody loves it and contributes what they know best.

You’d be amazed to discover what there is to know about glue, leather, felt, how to put everything together and get it working properly, the manufacturers and their histories, how “reproducing” pianos work, and why they’re such great fun (especially old ones), etc.

They only ask for contributions once in a blue moon, at the end of a digest, which, by the way, is just text, and well edited, which pleases me greatly. You have to go to their website for pictures, music, archives, advertising (only if you want it), and so on. It’s a great, enthusiastic community, and everybody chips in to keep it going, gleefully. But nobody has to.

Recently a college student told how he rescued a marvelous, very special old piano from being “put” through a six-inch hole (by busting it to pieces) on a lark. Instead, he asked his dorm supervisor or somebody to save it and put it in a storeroom. His father’s going to help him get it home, and they’ll probably restore it to its former glory, who wouldn’t? Who knows if they’ll keep it or put it in a museum? Perhaps it’ll go back to the college and be properly appreciated there. I just hope it plays music again, and never falls into disrepair like that ever again. He’s got initiative and thinks fast and clearly, that guy, a real hero in my book.

I remember when people used to give away their old player pianos. A guy down here collected them, seven large warehouses full of used pianos. People still don’t get, yet, what a bargain those old square grands are, in any condition, the worse, the cheaper. They think there’s something “inferior” about them, those marvelous old gems! Somebody will make a fortune on a tiny investment. All you need is room for a fairly large desk in your house. You can either get it restored yourself, or just wait till somebody begs you for it as is. This guy was probably rich before, but he sure is a lot richer today! He’ll even sell you something, something new, if that’s what you want, a magnificent Bosendorfer Imperial <sigh!>, say, or a small inexpensive Chinese piano; they’re actually quite good, you know. He’s always been advertising for piano technicians to come to sunny Miami and work for him, as long as I can remember. He knows what he’s doing.


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