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Kategorien/Categories:    ›Kultur/Culture‹  ›EN‹   –  30.05.2011

A curious musical niche

A visit to the International Street Organ Festival in Waldkirch

music for barrel organ music for mechanical organ
The 10th International Street organ Festival in the little town of Waldkirch, Germany, opened my eyes for a completely different type of musical code. The nifty mechanical instruments, powered in the early days by hand cranks, gave quite a different meaning to the expression "sheet music": their melodies were read from a sort of folded punch card, fed into the organ by a metal wheel.

On the left (or upper photo), you see a stack of different "tunes", folded neatly accordion-style. The picture on the right (or lelow) shows how the "notes" are fed through the instrument, each hole opening the appropriate pipe vent to produce the typical organ sound.

barrel organ

This is how these beauties look like from the fair-goers point of view. They were elaborate hand-crafted and intricate mechanical objects - or giant music boxes, if you like. Many of them are over 100 years old and today are sought-after collector's items.


street organ musicianApparently, Waldkirch once was home to many famous organ building shops, which sent their products all over the world. Today, the trade has reemerged with a few builders actively manufacturing both small street organs like the one on the left and also large, classical church organs.