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Parry’s Barrel Organ
John Longman’s New Invented Patent Barrel Organ with bells, drum and triangle
From Barrel No. 4
God Save the King, March in Blue Beard, Duke of York’s March, Minuet by Vandermere [5:10]
Lady Montgomery’s Reel, Miss Murray’s Strathspey, Paddy O’Rafferty, The Chartreuse  [4:54]
From Barrel No. 3
De’il Amongst the Taylors, Fife Hunt, Lord McDonald’s Reel, Mrs. Gordon of Troop) [3:52]
La Conservatoire, Ramah Droog, Speed the Plough [2:55]
From Barrel No. 5
Two unidentified titles [1:52]
From Barrel No. 2
100th Psalm, Morning Hymn, Sicilian Mariners, Portuguese, Adeste Fideles [5:54]
From Barrel No. 1
Stowr Lodge, Mdm. Hillingbury, Lord Howis Reel, Highlandman-Reel, Polly Put the Kettle On  [4:50]
From Barrel No. 2
Evening Hymn, German Hymn, 36th Psalm, 104th Psalm [5:33]
From Barrel No. 5
Three unidentified tunes [2:56]
SAYDISC CD-SDL 234 [38:01]

 


In 2006 it has become commonplace for people to take music with them wherever they go. Whether it be broadcast over radio waves or the internet or stored on CDs, in a portable MP3 player, on a computer, or some other device. It is difficult for many of us to even conceive of a world where we don’t have a selection of our favorite music within reach. In the past it was far more difficult to have music without trained musicians to provide musical entertainment. The 19th century equivalent of the iPod was the barrel organ. Each barrel - similar to the cylinder on a music box, but interchangeable like a player-piano - would contain several songs and could be swapped to give a new playlist. 

The navigator-explorer Sir William Edward Parry (1790-1855) was a man who would have appreciated the portable CD player. As such a device was not yet invented, he went with the best thing available. He purchased a top-of-the-line John Longman barrel organ to provide accompaniment during the crew’s daily calisthenics. The resulting piece of equipment was able to play tunes with the bellows-operated seven-stop pipe organ, a snare drum, bells and a triangle.

This CD is a recording of five barrels played on the barrel organ that accompanied Sir William on his voyages in search of the Northwest Passage (1819–1820, 1821–1823, and 1824–1825). This historic instrument played for the sailors and several encountered Eskimos between 1819 and 1827. The sound is a bit raucous and the hand-cranking doesn’t produce the steadiest of tempos, but the instrument itself is shown to be in good working order. Each of the tracks plays several songs including selections of hymns, songs of national pride and traditional dance pieces.

The timbre of the instrument is a bit like that of a carnival organ. Its reed organ tones and bells sound much like something one might encounter on a vintage merry-go-round. Many of the pitches tend to dip in strange ways during some of the songs. The snare drum doesn’t always align quite accurately with the rest of the music. The overall effect though is of a delightful cacophony. It certainly must have taken a very talented engineer to create such a strange and wonderful device. Music like this is seldom encountered any more. This probably is a good thing, for if this was something one heard often it would probably wear the listener down quickly. The delight is in the rarity. As a rarity though, this is definitely fun fare.

The primary audience for this disc must be the historian. This is an album that few people would play for simple enjoyment more than a few times. The novelty soon wears off, and without the actual device’s presence to remind the listener of the clockwork wizardry the album can quickly become wearisome. At 38 minutes long, one can make it through the entire album about once before the listener needs a rest and something else needs to be put in the CD changer. However it is an interesting disc, a monument to the engineering feat of John Longman, and the surest proof that everyone living in a modern age should be glad for the invention of the portable music player.

Patrick Gary

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