From Barrel to Midi


The first street organs were small and played from a pinned barrel. This is a cylinder of wood that had metal pins and bridges applied to it that lifted the keys of the organ to operate the notes.







































Of course, as in most things, bigger is better and larger organs were made and transported or hand carts or event pulled by a horse.


The barrel, though, was a restricting factor, as a maximum of around 10 tunes could be fitted on one barrel, and limited my the diameter of the barrel in the duration of the tine in one revolution. It would soon become tedious to hear the same tunes time and again.




























In 1892, Anselmo Gavioli developed a system derived from Jacquard's weaving loom whereby the music was programmed on punched cardboad arranged in a folding book form. This meant that numerous books ( hence different tunes ) could be carried with the organ greatly extending the repertoire. Another enhancement is that the cardboard book could be of any length and complete musical works could be arranged.




























The organs became bigger, with more stops or registers of different sounds, limited only on the ability of the operator to propel the organ around the streets, The zenith of the street organ was arguably the 90 key organs devised and assembled by the German organ builder Carl Frei, who worked for many years in the Dutch city of Breda. Many organs have been made up to the present day using Frei's system.






























Of course organs were also used on fairgrounds and in dancing establishments of Holland and Belgium, there size was no matter and even larger organs were built.


IN the 1980's electronic devices wre devised to operate all kinds of machines and this included musical instruments. From the early days and practical universal system was devised called MIDI, or musical instrument digital interface. This has been adapted for all kinds of self playing instruments and the organ is no exception.


Some traditional street organs now have MIDI devices installed, which operate within the organ's traditional mechanism, so that cardboard books can still be played.


The benefit of this is that the not inconsiderable weight of the cardboards books can be replaced with a single SD card and midi device. Tradition is kept alongside the new system.


New organs can still be built with cardboard book mechanisms, but many are made to operate on MIDI.


My own organ 'Carianne' was devised from the outset to work solely on MIDI. At the present time, 'Carianne' has some 520 different tunes or selections that would play for 15 hours continuously, if that music was in cardboad book form for 64 key organ, the weight of the cardboard would be about 5 tonnes. In wooden barrel form it would be impossible!