Thursday, November 5, 2015

A Pipe Organ Desk!

I recently created a board on Pinterest called Random Old Organ Pipes.  

I got the idea from a picture I'd seen of a birdhouse made out of two old wooden flute pipes. (Whether or not making a birdhouse from an organ pipe qualifies as a travesty is a topic for later discussion...)  Well, it's surprising what people have dreamed up.  An organ pipe shelfAn organ pipe knife holderAn organ pipe ribbon rackOrgan pipe benches.  And my favorite, the aforementioned organ pipe birdhouse.

But it was the Kagen Sounds pipe organ desk that really grabbed my attention, for, not only is it beautifully crafted desk with organ pipes about; it's also a sort of puzzle!  Master wood worker and designer Kagen Sound of Denver, Colorado, has created this pipe organ desk with the most beautiful woods, unparalleled craftsmanship, and intrigue.

Kagen's specialty is secret boxes, and is a recognized member of the world's only guild of secret box makers. 

Pipe organs, as we all know, are the epitome of a "secret box" with all of their pipework, windways, windchests, mechanical actions, wiring, and bellows, reservoirs, and blowers.  So what a perfect combination, to build an organ that makes noise as one opens and closes the desk drawers.

Do you remember an episode of Scooby Doo where the team finds a note on an organ that says "FEED the organ and watch the floor?"  Its always stuck with me, that Velma (who else?) figured out that FEED meant to play the notes F, E, E, D on the organ.  Sure enough a trap door opened in the floor and Shaggy, Scooby, et. al were able to escape.

In much the same way (with apologies to Kagen Sound), the pipe organ desk--when *FED* the appropriate combination of drawers opening and closing--opens up to reveal secret compartments.  One can even play tunes and solve more puzzles contained within the larger drawers! 


 The amazing craftsmanship of the Pipe Organ Desk can be seen in the pictures on the site.  I've chosen a few that I found the most fascinating.

"Adjusting these pegs on the back of the memory board changes the tune it reads. The dark pegs represent the notes of the song."  (Picture and Text from Kagen Sound Website)

 Wooden air connectors inside the desk. (Picture and Text from Kagen Sound Website)

The pneumatic memory board and organ pipe octave.  Each pipe can be adjusted to play any note within an octave. All organ pipes can be tuned to perfect pitch.  (Picture and Text from Kagen Sound Website)

Check out Kagen Sound on the web and see his many beautiful creations, including the Koa Pipe Organ Box.  

I'd love to see this in person someday and experience working the puzzles and combinations to make music on the Kagen Sound Pipe Organ Desk!  I told my wife that someday I want something like this at home.  I suppose that's a.. uh hm, err.. pipe dream.  

©2015 Brian Ebie

Friday, September 25, 2015

Recording Edison Cylinders and Diamond Discs --- Just Take Those Old Records off the Shelf, Part 3

In my continuing series of recordings of early Edison Phonographs and Cylinder records, I am taking selected recordings from my collection and linking them with a video of the actual phonograph playing the recording.  Along with the video and recording, I am compiling a little narrative including interesting facts about the artist and recording.

This week's installment is a February 1914 of My Heart at Thy Sweet Voice, from Camille Saint-Saëns Opera Samson and Delilah, as performed by contralto Mary Jordan (1879-1961). (Samson et Dalila. Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix)  Cylinder number 2158: Edison Blue Amberol

Something that struck me right away about the recording was that Mary Jordan made the recording while Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) was still living.  What an amazing time to be alive.  I wonder if he heard it?  What must it have been like to hear recordings of your works in the early days of recording?

It is fairly well documented that Thomas Edison did not tolerate vibrato or tremolo either in voice or instrument.  This peculiar musical taste of his, it is conjectured, was due to his hearing loss.

Neil Baldwin, in his book, Edison, Inventing the Century, recounts the story of Edison’s dislike of complicated music:

“Edison [was] in the business to find the best mechanical way to “establish music on a scientific basis.” Along with a more finely honed consumer product, he likewise sought to eliminate the intervention of the singer’s dramatic personality, expressed through vocal devices like vibrato; he believed these “false notes” were symptomatic of “interpretative” music and its concomitantly misleading and superfluous nuances and subtleties—which, of course, he could not truly discern or appreciate.

“Instead, Edison sought clear diction, what he called “straight” tone: just plain, unadorned notes.”

When a famous violinist was playing for Edison, the violinist quickly realized the sort of sound Edison was looking for and thus "...he drew a dead sound, the worst kind possible, utterly devoid of vibrato.  "That's great!  That's great!" Edison said."

True to form, in Mary Jordan's recording of this aria, her vibrato is slow, and the solo violin passages are devoid of any trace of vibrato... just a straight tone. 

Not much is known about Mary Jordan, apart from her career with Edison and a note in the Edison Amberol Monthly vol 11 about her headlining at the Century Theatre in New York.

I was able to find this picture of Mary Jordan performing at the Century Theatre:

Also, the pictures below of her name in print in the Edison Amberol Monthly, which was published for sellers of phonographs: 

Finally, a picture of her name in print next to the cylinder of "My Heart at Thy Sweet Voice" Edison Cylinder 2158:

My Heart At Thy Sweet Voice Lyrics

My heart at they sweet voice
Swift unfolds like a flower,
When the dawn first is showing.
But Oh! to stop my tears
Thou has it in thy power,
One word more, love be stowing.
To thy Delilah gay
Thou returnest for alway!
Repeat they wooing tender,
All the vows once more tell;
Those sweet vows lov’d so well!
Ah! come list to my fond wooing!
‘Tis with ardor my heart imbuing!
Listen unto my wooing, Listen unto my wooing
Ah! ‘Tis with ardor my heart imbuing!

Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix

Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix,
comme s'ouvrent les fleurs
aux baisers de l'aurore!
Mais, ô mon bienaimé,
pour mieux sécher mes pleurs,
que ta voix parle encore!
Dis-moi qu'à Dalila
tu reviens pour jamais.
Redis à ma tendresse
les serments d'autrefois,
ces serments que j'aimais!
|: Ah! réponds à ma tendresse!
Verse-moi, verse-moi l'ivresse! :
Ainsi qu'on voit des blés
les épis onduler
sous la brise légère,
ainsi frémit mon coeur,
prêt à se consoler,
à ta voix qui m'est chère!
La flèche est moins rapide
à porter le trépas,
que ne l'est ton amante
à voler dans tes bras!
|: Ah! réponds à ma tendresse!
Verse-moi, verse-moi l'ivresse!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Recording Edison Cylinders and Diamond Discs --- Just Take Those Old Records off the Shelf, Part 2

In my continuing series of recording selected cylinders from my collection of Edison phonographs, I've recorded a cylinder that has always been a particular favorite of mine.  The title of the cylinder is "Let Us Not Forget."  It's an address by Thomas Alva Edison himself.  Edison, always self-conscious of his voice due to his deafness, seldom allowed his voice to be recorded.  In this recording, however, he felt strongly enough about the topic that he read an address to the American people on the role of the allied powers in working with the United States to defeat Germany in World War I.

Although "Let Us Not Forget" was originally issued on a 4-minute Blue Amberol cylinder, the entire speech is just under two minutes long.  There are two different versions of this cylinder.  The speech is always the same, however, another version is followed by national airs of other countries.  My copy of this cylinder has blank grooves for another two minutes.

Thomas A. Edison, the inventor of the phonograph, has never before permitted his voice to be recorded for the public. Today, however, he has a message for you that is important enough to cause him to break his long established rule. Mr. Edison will now give you that message. I beg to introduce Mr. Thomas A. Edison:

Thomas Alva Edison:

Thomas Edison's Address "Let Us Not Forget" 1919
This is Edison speaking. Our boys made good in France, the word 'American' has a new meaning in Europe. Our soldiers have made it mean courage, generosity, self-restraint and modesty. We are proud of the North Americans who risked their lives for the liberty of the world. But we must not forget and we must not permit demagogues to belittle the part played by our gallant allies. Their casualty list tells the story. However proud we may be of our own achievements, let us remember always, that the war could not have been won if the Belgians, the British, the French and the Italians had not fought like bull-dogs in the face of overwhelming odds. The Great War will live dilately in the minds of Americans for the next hundred years. I hope that when we do reverence to the memory of our brave boys who fell in France, we shall not forget their brothers in arms who wore the uniform of our allies. I believe that the national airs of France, Great Britain, Italy and Belgium should for all time to come be as familiar to us as our own Star Spangled Banner."

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy this cylinder recording.  

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Recording Edison Cylinders and Diamond Discs ---- Just Take Those Old Records off the Shelf, Part 1

For many years I've collected phonographs built by Thomas Edison's National Phonograph Company.  It was an interest that began when I was in high school and continues more or less today.  It's funny when you're a collector how the passion for the project ebbs and flows.  Realizing that I've had several of these "reproducing machines" and cylinder records for close to 30 years now--which puts many of them over or approaching 100 years old--I thought I'd try to preserve some of the recordings I've enjoyed for many years and share them with anyone who stumbles across my posts. 

This will be a series of videos or recordings that I will post either on YouTube or on SoundCloud.  I think it's important to preserve these earliest sound recordings for future generations.  Other people are doing the same thing and I hope to add to their efforts with these few recordings.  d

In each post I'll describe the phonograph used and try to tell as much about the artist and recording as I can find.

"That Old Gang of Mine" Billy Jones and Ernest Hare, 1923, Edison Diamond Disc Recording.

Played on an Edison Diamond Disc Cabinet Phonograph, Model BC-34, 1923

The following biographical sketch retrieved from

BILLY JONES (born 3-15-89, died 11-23-40) and ERNEST HARE (born 3-16-83, died 3-9-39) met in 1919 and formed a team at the suggestion of Brunswick recording executive, Gus Haenschen. They recorded for Brunswick and many other companies as Jones and Hare, The Happiness Boys. Jones is the tenor; Hare, the bass/baritone.
When they performed on a network radio show for Interwoven Socks, they called themselves The Interwoven Pair. They also made theater and club appearances. They reached the height of their popularity in 1929-30. They also recorded as Billy West & Bob Thomas, Thomas & West, Henry Jones & Billy West, Harry Blake & Robert Judson, Blake & Judson, Lester George & Walter Lange, and Scott & Lewis.

They became known as The Happiness Boys, because as radio entertainers they were sponsored, beginning in August 1923 on Manhattan New York station WEAF, by the Happiness Candy Stores. By 1924 they adopted "How Do You Do?" as their radio theme song. In 1928, Jones and Hare became the highest paid singers in radio, $1,250 a week.

William Reese Jones, a tenor, tried his hand at banking, mining, blacksmithing, and other occupations. He made his recording debut in 1918. He used several names: Billy Jones,Harry Blake, Billy Clarke, Lester George, Duncan Jones, Reese Jones, John Kelley, Dennis O'Malley, William Rees, Victor Roberts, Billy West, William West, and Carlton Williams. He recorded with Cleartone Four (Harmonizers Quartet), Crescent Trio, Harmonizers Quartet. Premier Quartet (replacing Billy Murray in late Premier groups for Edison recordings).

Thomas Ernest Hare, a bass/baritone, began his recording career in 1918. During 1919 and 1920 he was Al Jolson's understudy during a run of "Sinbad." Hare's Jolson style can be heard on Grey Gull 1166-B "Knock Wood and Whistle." As Hare recorded with partners such as Al Bernard and Billy Jones, he continue to work as a solo artist using names such as Bob Thomas, Wallace Daniels, Arthur Grant, Henry Jones, Robert Judson, Walter Lang, Walter Leslie, Roy Roberts, Bob Thompson, "Hobo" Jack Turner and Frank Mann. He recorded with Cleartone Four (Harmonizers Quartet), Crescent Trio, Harmonizers Quartet. Premier Quartet (replacing Billy Murray in late Premier groups for Edison recordings).

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Rally 'Round the Flag! Some Pipe Organ Fireworks for the 4th of July

The Battle Cry of Freedom!

Played by Richard Elliot on the Schoenstein Organ at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Conference Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.  


This iconic song of the American Civil War was at one time so popular that the publisher's 14 printing presses ran around the clock and could not keep up with the demand from the public for copies of the sheet music.  Written by George Frederic Root in 1862, it was to become one of the most popular songs of the period.  It is estimated that over 700,000 copies were produced.

American composer and hymn writer George F. Root wrote the music and lyrics which were adopted by the Union Army as a pro-Union song.  The  song was even adapted as a campaign theme song for President Abraham Lincoln.  Despite this, the Confederacy found a composer (H. L. Schreiner) and lyricist (W. H. Barnes) to set the music and words with a pro-Confederate spin, thus it became popular in the southern states as well.

Mormon Tabernacle Organist Richard Elliott performs his own setting of the piece on the mighty 160 rank Conference Center Schoenstein pipe organ.  His arrangement is expertly thought out with a solid foundation and "horn" fifths treatment of the melody.  A second section with a piccolo-styled obbligato brings to mind the fife and drum corps.  Finally, some incredible pedaling passages suggest the folks running to "Rally 'Round the Flag!"

Enjoy!  And for those of you in the States, Happy 4th of July!

The Battle Cry of Freedom

The Union forever
Hurrah, boys, hurrah!
Down with the traitor
Up with the star
While we rally round the flag, boys
Rally once again
Shouting the battle cry of freedom

Oh, we'll rally round the flag, boys, we'll rally once again
Shouting the battle cry of freedom
We will rally from the hillside, we'll gather from the plain
Shouting the battle cry of freedom


We are springing to the call of our brothers gone before
Shouting the battle cry of freedom
And we'll fill the vacant ranks with a million freemen more
Shouting the battle cry of freedom


We will welcome to our numbers the loyal, true, and brave
Shouting the battle cry of freedom
And although they may be poor not a man shall be a slave
Shouting the battle cry of freedom


So we're springing to the call from the East and from the West
Shouting the battle cry of freedom
And we'll hurl the Rebel crew from the land we love the best
Shouting the battle cry of freedom


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Brian Ebie: A Checklist for Organ Practice

A Checklist for Organ Practice

This document provides the organ student with an outline of how to approach learning a piece of music. Activities to stimulate learning and retention from pre-practice to followup and evaluative assessment are included in this brief outline. Perhaps a bit idealistic here and there, but nonetheless a solid primer on building one's skills or returning them to a higher level of musical comprehension and executive ability. 


I.  PRE-PRACTICE  Away from the keyboard

  • Decode the score - analyze for understanding
  • Determine structure of piece – which parts are the same and which present different challenges.
  • Identify scale and chord outlines in order to plan fingering. Note key changes and probable spots for registration changes
  • Determine starting points for practice - list by number in the score
  • Form a conception of the music - tactile and visual - hear it in your head


  • Warm up at the keyboard with manual and pedal scales beginning at a slow tempo;
  • Play a familiar hymn
  • Work out three basic rudiments in each piece: NOTES, RHYTHM & FINGERING
  • Work in small sections concentrating on one technical challenge at a time
  • Be consistent with similar passages that occur through a piece.
  • Use the same fingering on the same patterns wherever possible. Use fingering that helps you play the correct notes and rhythm
  • Analyze problem spots - correct them and reinforce by several repetitions
  • Work corrected spots into the texture of the piece by beginning a few measures before and continuing a few measures following them
  • Practice slowly with a metronome for consistent rhythm
  • Practice pedaling on floor while seated in a chair to gain an overview of foot and body movement


  • Approach errors with curiosity and objectivity; i.e. what is causing this spot to be difficult? How can I take the parts apart and correct the errors?
  • Avoid mindless repetitions at fast tempi. Vary repetitions to keep them fresh and avoid overuse of the same muscle groups
  • Practice in dotted rhythms to improve coordination, accuracy and steadiness
  • Avoid tension in your hands, arms and ankles. Incorporate hand and arm rotation principals into all playing. At the first sign of pain stop playing and observe what you were doing and how. Determine how to play the problem passage without tension and discomfort.
  • Begin practice at different parts of a piece each day and be able to start at any of these section set weekly practice goals; i.e. be able to play last two pages of Bach at a slow tempo with all notes and rhythms correct.
  • Conduct the piece all the way through away from the keyboard.
  • Keep in mind the adage that practice may not make perfect, but it does make permanent.
  • Practice the way you hope to play the piece.
  • Memorize difficult passages sections for technical and mental security


  • Set realistic short-term and long-term goals
  • Consider how a practice technique used in learning a piece can facilitate learning a similar piece
  • Use practice as a preparation for performance; play for others regularly to gain experience in playing under pressure.
  • Record and listen to your own playing with a positive mindset – what sounded really good as well as what areas had glitches
  • In order to develop your own concepts of interpretation, listen to three performances of a work that you are learning as recorded
  • by competent performers. What do you like in what you heard? Which ideas might you want to incorporate in your playing of the piece?
  • Which ideas did not like and why?
  • Enjoy plateaus and look forward to the next level of learning and playing 

Follow this link for a downloadable PDF of this list.  

All materials courtesy of Drs. Barbara MacGregor and Brian Ebie

© Brian Ebie 2015. All rights reserved.