When Is an Organ Not an Organ?

July 11, 2012 § 2 Comments

After reading my earlier blog post entitled “Those Magic Rolls,” my friend Robert Dial who is an organ historian and builder sent me a series of emails in which he presented a startling theory. He believes that the device in the Dana-Thomas House that we have been calling a player organ wasn’t an organ at all. Rather it was a roll player device. He sent me this image and explained his idea this way:

I believe a roll player device like this was installed to play the Vocalion [small reed organ] at the Dana-Thomas House.   It can be rolled up to a keyboard and a row of levers actually strike the keys.   When finished, you can roll is out of the way and play the keyboard manually…So, my theory is there were two devices:  The detached Farrand Cecilian player with rolls which played a Vocalion .

One item of interest regarding the Cecilian–there were controls for the operator to control the bass and treble independently, pianissimo to fortissimo lever, and control to emphasize any note–mechanically ingenious for 1902.  So, the player had some control of the music, which may (or not) have added some degree of musicality.

Click here to see how a restored roll player works with a modern keyboard.

After Bob and I took a close look at the space and the device I have been calling an organ but may not be an organ, he has pretty well convinced me that it is possible. He went one step further and searched on line for a restored Farrand Cecilian roll player. He found one in California. Anyone have $1,200 plus shipping and handling to bring it to the Dana-Thomas House for demonstrations?

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§ 2 Responses to When Is an Organ Not an Organ?

  • RT McDonald says:

    Interesting theory! And It does make sense. I always wondered where the keyboard was on Susan’s “organ”. It just never looked like a playable organ to me. I’d never heard of such a device as a Cecilian but having seen the picture you posted, Susan’s instrument looks more like IT than it does an organ.

    If it turns out that this IS just the player portion in the DTH, where’s the organ??

    Great post, now you really have me wondering…

    • susanandme says:

      I asked the same question with a variation: Where was the organ? Bob seems to remember visiting the house years ago and seeing the roll player against the wall between the pipes and the roll closet. If that was the case, the organ could have been under the pipes where we now have the roll player. I also think there would be room for a small organ and the roll player under the pipes with the roll player protruding slightly. In any case, if we follow this theory, the organ is gone.

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