2006-02-24 / Columnists

The Band Organ Is The Stereophonic System Of The Old Days

Behind this ornamental façade is a wooden cabinet that contains a full orchestra, which plays military marches or popular songs of the day. Officially known as the Wurlitzer Band Organ, you might remember hearing and enjoying the music when you rode a colorful carousel that went up and down. Music rolls with punched holes (no hanging chads) ran over a mechanical reader which directed operating forces to activate the correct organ pipe, bells, chimes, snare drum, bass drum, xylophone, cow bell, or whatever else blended the clash harmonies and sometimes missing notes together…to please your eardrums.

This type of musical wonder was often used at grand openings, promotions, parades, parties, and festive occasions…besides the memorable carousel. Old carnivals and circus shows used band organs to supplement their orchestras.

In contemporary times, stereophonic music players and piped in tunes have replaced these band organs, but some of them are only pleasing to the progressive deaf, whose hearing is slowly being destroyed by their debilitating boom boxes! The music that comes out of this band organ, which is, in size, the equivalent of 2/3 of a cubic yard, is more pleasing than Van Halen at 500 watts!!

The first carousel in Rockaway Beach had a hand-operated organ, then a spring wound mechanism, replaced by a steam operated organ and finally good old electricity. Carousel motive power followed the same evolution, almost.

Old time band organs were manufactured in the states, and many were the imported kind from prewar (World War I, that is) Germany. Nunley’s Carousel in old Seaside had a German band organ built in 1910…which was 12 feet wide and nine feet high. It is now in retirement, but between 1990 and 2000, it supplied music at the Busch Gardens German Village Festhaus, in Williamsburg, Virginia.

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