October 2008

Mechanical Music at Fuerth Fair

October 9, 2008 03:24

The Octoberfest in Munich may be better known, but some 100 miles farther north the citizens of Fuerth celebrate their traditional "Kerwa" (carr-wah) for centuries longer - all the way back to 1100, the year St. Michael was completed.

The specialty: this event takes place right in the city center, for 2 weeks blocking traffic through the busy downtown section, merry-go-rounds, roller coasters, ferris wheels and other attractions lining the streets together with market stalls where you can buy everything and anything (pictures and further information).

Before the advent of PA and electronic equipment, there were calliopes. This years fair showcases three beautiful historic mechanical instruments that play every half hour for 20 minutes - free entrance.

This instrument

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has a range of 67 tones and the following registers: tuba, trumpet, 3 violins, drone, bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, bells, 3 registers "Mixtur", 2 registers for rhythm. It was built in 1920 by the Wrede family in Hanover and is owned by the Kalb family in Nuremberg since 1947.

The next calliope

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covers the range of contra f up to f''. Tuba, trumpet, sub bass, cello, violin, "Mixtur", "Gedackt", ocarina, "Subbourdon", 2 flute registers, bass drum and cymbals, bells - 368 sound creating entities total add up to a gross weight of 1.3 metric tons. It was built 1942 - 1944 and is owned by the Braun company in Nuremberg.

The biggest instrument

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is owned by the Kunstmann family and was refurbished and enlarged in 1978 by Voigt in Frankfurt/Main. It was built in 1919 by the Bruder company in Waldkirch. There are 353 "voices", percussion and 3 animated puppets. 12 registers, a bass drum and bells complete the outfit.

The music program is stored on heavy, zig-zag-folded paper; producing those was is an art nowadays almost completely lost - together with the materials and parts one needs to maintain those complicated machines.

For those of you interested in music automatons, visit Siegfried's Music Cabinet at Rüdesheim. There you can see some approaches to integrating string instruments into mechanical instruments - generally using a hurdy gurdy "bowing" method and pneumatically activated "fingers" to stop the strings.

3 replies

57th Bavarian Festival / 30th Anniversary Bamberg Cornhusker SDC

October 6, 2008 01:09

My fellow caller Thomas S. and I had been kicking around the idea of providing live music for square dancing for some years already. On Saturday, 2008-10-04 we finally made it happen. The Bavarian Festival Square Dance Band consisted of two dancers and two callers.

Accordion: Sabine Z.


Bass accordion: Reinhard G.

Rhythm guitar & PA: Thomas E.

Fiddle: Yours truly

Calling/prompting: Thomas S.

One and a half hours before the registration, we set up the PA, the mic and music stands and did the sound check. The hall was still quite cool and my cold not-yet-very-alive fingers had serious trouble in following the fast parts of "Irish Washer Woman" and "Soldier's Joy". Mounting stage fright - after all, while I've been calling for 19 years now, this was to be my first appearance as a square dance fiddler (playing afterparties does not count!).

Soon, the reliable and energetic rhythm section gave me confidence that this might be a success. We had only practiced together once - last week for two short hours.

The dancers loved the novelty of live music - usually square dancers dance to records (yes, the big old black vinyl singles of yesteryear; some time ago, a friend of mine got a remark by a big-eyed pre-teen bystander: "My, you've got some big CDs!") or, nowadays, mp3 files.

As usual, an exhilarated audience creates a surge of good vibrations that are sent back to the stage and further energize the performers. While hoping that my left hand wouldn't knot up in endlessly repeating the deceptively simple melodies of "Lord of the Dance", "Irish Washer Woman" and "Turkey in the Straw", I realized why many fiddlers do not use the classical bow grip but put their thumb below the frog or even take the lower end of the bow into their fist.

Playing dances is high-energy musicianship and great fun. We got so much positive feedback from the dancers that we decided to put in a spontaneous apperance for the grand march and the grand march tip. "Oh Susanna" was a great sing-along for the occasion and again generated a surge of positive energy in the dance hall.

Calling was even more fun than usual (and downright relaxing after this new experience). Dancers, callers, the band and onlookers all enjoyed themselves very much and I sure hope this hasn't been the last time I did this. Thanks to the Bamberg Cornhusker SDC and all my bandmates for making this dream come true.

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