People are probably most familiar with the sounds of mechanical organs as background at amusement parks or carnivals. They don’t always know the rich heritage, the grand design, or the incredible, versatile sounds these glorious machines can make.
That’s why, with the help of the Princeton Merchants Association, the Carousel Organ Association of America (COAA) and the Automatic Musical Instruments Collectors Association (AMICA) will combine with a band organ rally that will bring more than two dozen ornate, elaborate mechanical organs to the streets, squares, and parks of Princeton for the first time on August 6 and 7.
This wonderful weekend of music will be one of three or four organ rallies around the country this summer, and is unique in that most of these rallies happen in more rural areas. But then, Princeton is a pretty unique place, with its deep love for arts and culture, and COAA and AMICA figured it would be an ideal venue to show off these magnificent instruments.
Of all the places we’ve held organ rallies, Princeton is the most interesting, and the PMA couldn’t have been more excited about the event. When I first reached out to the Princeton community about it, I spoke with Anita Fresolone of Palmer Square Management and Jeff Nathanson of the Princeton Arts Council. Both were ecstatic about the idea, and the support of the Princeton Merchants Association opened the door to more enthusiastic community organizations.
Organs will be displayed and play around Palmer Square, Nassau Presbyterian Church, Monument Park, All Wars Memorial, Garden Theatre, Arts Council, Hinds Plaza, Princeton Shopping Center, and YMCA.
Says Nathanson: “Given the arts and culture scene here, we figured an event like this would fit right in.”
The organs come in three sizes. Small ones, about the size of an ice cream cart, can be can be rolled out easily on small trolleys. These are what we call small “crank, grind, or monkey organs,” because operators crank them to make music from the organ pipes and percussion. We expect to have 10 or 15 of those on display.
Medium-sized organs, about the size of a compact car, are operated by motors. Those come in on trailers and we expect to have five or six of those.
Finally, there are the grand concert organs, those beautiful giants that can emulate whole concert bands and orchestras, and are so large, they need to come in on tractor trailers. We expect to have four or five of those.
Regardless of the size, these wonderful machines are owned by collectors in all parts of the country — and the world — who lovingly maintain and restore them.. All play from large paper rolls or punched cardboard, and the music ranges from old, vintage, period tunes and standards to today’s greatest hits in popular, classical, dancehall, or really any type of music.
I have been a collector myself for more than 40 years, but my love for these instruments goes back to when I was a small kid growing up on the west coast. I spent time in parks or on carousels like the ones on Santa Monica Pier, Griffith Park, Disneyland, or Knott’s Berry Farm, listening to the music. As I got into my teens and 20s, I became much more serious about the organs and, over the course of my career in financial services, I started acquiring and maintaining some.
Today I’m the owner of three large vintage mechanical concert organs and several smaller vintage coin-operated nickelodeons, orchestrions, and pianos, and many will be on display during the rally.
It’s always amazing to see the reactions these beautiful machines get from children and from adults who, when they see the instruments up close, turn into children again themselves. Visitors are mesmerized by the great orchestral sounds and the elaborate, colorful, and beautifully carved facades. The craftsmanship is astounding, and by the time people walk away, they no longer see these instruments as makers of background sound at a carnival or ice rink. They listen to the sounds, learn the history, and suddenly see just why collectors like myself take such care to preserve these instruments.
The instruments will play from about 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, August 6 and 7. There will be interpretive exhibits to educate and inform the public what they are seeing and hearing, and even the chance to join the two sponsoring organizations, AMICA and COAA.
On Saturday at 1 p.m., at Nassau Presbyterian Church, a one-hour multi-media presentation will be presented to the public about this wonderful music, the organizations, and their history.
During the week, AMICA will be holding its convention at the Nassau Inn, taking tours of the area, visiting notable collections of these instruments, and having a hospitality room at the Nassau Inn. That room will be open to the public most days and will display several of the coin-operated nickelodeons that make up another part of this great music and history. A docent will be available.
So please, come see and hear these grand instruments. We’ll look forward to the expression on your face.
For more information visit http://amica-coaaprinceton2016.homestead.com.
Several hundred members of the two organizations will be visiting Princeton and the surrounding area for nearly a week to enjoy these activities.