My World Wednesday: Music

I'm not sure sure how it happened but I live with two pianos, a pump organ and two Victrolas. I guess that’s what happens when one lives in a large Victorian house. “Normal” people wouldn’t want these large pieces taking up space in their homes. But I think they are unique and wonderful and I wouldn’t dream of getting rid of any of them.
This pump organ was manufactured just up the road by the Weaver Organ and Piano Company. It’s hard to date it exactly but it was made some time between 1882 and 1912. This particular organ is in need of restoration and there are indeed companies that sell replacement parts for these old organs. I find there is still something lovely about it. At Christmas, it gets decorated with ribbon and greens.

You might notice that this piano has a strange door on the front. Open it up and you’ll see the roll holder of a player piano. Piano rolls were made of perforated paper. A pneumatic system caused the holes to be read and the piano keys depressed. Another door at the bottom of the piano opens to a set of foot petals that must be pumped to build up that pneumatic pressure. This instrument was built by the Cunningham Piano Company in Philadelphia, probably in the 1890s.

Player pianos were really popular until phonographs hit the scene. The most famous pianists and composers or the day recorded rolls. Since they are only paper, the rolls tear easily and get destroyed. But for those who want them, originals are still available and remastered ones are still made by niche companies. Player pianos can perform very complex music although it doesn’t sound just like the real thing because of the minute differences in pressure and timing that a musician sitting on the bench would use. It is fun to have one though and quite good leg exercise.

Since I mentioned the phonograph, here is one of my Victor-Victrolas. There is lots of information available about these because each one had a serial number. This particular model was manufactured in 1917-1918 and sold for $130.00 at that time. Like the player piano, this provides exercise too as the phonograph must be cranked with the little hand crank you see in the picture. This model has an internal speaker and the upper doors are opened to project the music.

Victrolas played 78 records. You’ve probably seen them. As my machines belonged to my husband’s family, we inherited their record collection as well. I recognize some artist’s names like, Kay Kyser, Gene Autry, Al Jolson, and Gene Krupa. Those must have belonged to “Grandpa.” Other records were pre-1930 jazz: Harmony Joe, House of David by the Original Memphis Five, Bake that Chicken Pie, It Don’t Do Nothin’ But Rain. There were lots of records in the collection by black artists; I think they belonged to “Great Grandpa.”

These old instruments and machines help to create a Victorian ambiance in my home and it is special to me that they’ve come down in the family. All of these pieces are over a century old. I hope that they can exist for another century.