Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A Brief History of the Fairground Organ

Wellershaus Brothers German Fair Organ
A fairground organ is a pipe organ designed for use in a commercial public fairground setting to provide loud music to accompany fairground rides and attractions, mostly used on merry-go-rounds. Unlike organs intended for indoor use, they are designed to produce a large volume of sound to be heard over and above the noise of crowds of people and fairground machinery.


As fairgrounds became more mechanized at the end of the nineteenth century so did their musical needs grow. The period of greatest activity of fairground organ manufacture and development is from the later 1880s through to the introduction of effective electrical sound amplification in the mid-1920s. The organ chassis was typically provided with an ornate and florid decorative case façade designed to be a further fairground attraction in its own right as with all fairground equipment.

The ornate case façades frequently had different instruments such as a Glockenspiel or Drums that provide visual entertainment as they played. There were often ornate human figures such as a conductor whose arm moved in time to the music or women whose arms would strike bells. The mechanics to accomplish this motion were quite intricate and provided a pleasant visual experience in addition to the music.
The organs were constructed so as to be able to produce the popular music of the period. Organs were designed to mimic the musical capabilities of a typical human band. For this reason, they are known as band organs in the US.
The motive force for a fairground organ is typically wind under pressure generated from mechanically powered sets of bellows mounted in the base of the instrument. The instruments, designed to be operated without a human performer, are keyboard-less apart from a few one-off examples. The organ is played mechanically by either a rotating barrel with the music pinned thereon like a music box, a strip of card perforated with the musical data and registration controls called book music or interchangeable rolls of paper similarly programmed called music rolls.
Fairground organs were used in many settings such as general fairground rides, static side shows such as bioscope shows and various locations in amusements parks such as ice rinks and the like. Manufacturers of fairground organs also typically made instruments for indoor usage in a dance hall called a dance organ and travelling street use called a street organ.

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