Archive for Thursday, April 14, 2005

Organ grinders ready for rally at fort

Collectors association bringing wares to rally

April 14, 2005

The sound of monkey organs will fill the air at Fort Leavenworth this weekend.

"Monkey organ" is another name for a street organ, which is a pipe organ played by turning a crank. Between 15 and 20 organ players will put on a band rally from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday in the ice park and parade field during the Fort Leavenworth Historic Homes Tour.

Lansing resident Gordie Davidson, an instructor at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, organized the rally. Davidson, who has been collecting and playing the instruments for 12 years, recruited the organ players through the Midwestern chapter of the Automated Musical Instruments Collectors' Association.

The organs first became popular in Europe in the 19th century, and were a common sight on sidewalks in large American cities up until the early 20th century.

Davidson, a 58 year-old Army officer, first became interested in the devices when he was stationed for most of the 1980s in West Berlin as an engineer officer in the army.

"Originally I was fascinated by the sound and appearance," Davidson said. "A lot of them have great craftsmanship."

Davidson said the instruments, also known as barrel organs, are interesting from a mechanical point of view as well.

"The computer wasn't invented by Apple in the '80s," Davidson said. "Street organs use punched paper rolls, like the punch cards used by computers in the '60s."

The paper roll's holes function as binary input code, Davidson said, turning on and off individual pipes in the organ.

The homes tour admission fee is $10, and the band rally and encampment is free. Identification will be required at the entrance gates to the base.

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