Evidence of Musical Evolution

Visitors can play records on the Edison Phonograph at the Syracuse Museum

From a mother’s lullaby to a dancing tune or an orchestra, music defines and shapes our lives. It also impacts communities. In a recollection written by June Rentmeister Della Sivla in 1929 or 1930, she mentioned a community class where they talked about “customs of days that are past.” They discussed the first dance halls in Syracuse where people square danced and did the plain quadrille and Virginia Reels. She also said “for an orchestra, one or two fiddles sufficed.” The Syracuse Brass Band debuted on July 24,1909.

How we listen to or play music has changed. Today, we have a variety of music at our fingertips. We can listen to music anytime as we carry it around with us in our pockets. We can tell Siri or Alexa to play us a specific song, but that was not always the case.

In the “music in the parlor” display at the Syracuse Museum, patrons can see different musical machines and instruments including the Edison phonograph. Thomas Edison invented the phonograph or gramophone in 1877. A table displays different records that can be played on the phonograph for patrons.

One instrument in the display is a harmonica. In 1821, Christian Frederich Buschmann registered for a patent for his new musical invention. He described it this way: “…a new instrument that is truly remarkable. In its entirety it measures but four inches in diameter…but gives me twenty-one notes…”

The Syracuse Museum pump organ has recently been restored into working order.

Another instrument is the pump organ which does not use electricity. Foot pedals are pumped to force air through the reeds to make music. Knobs called stops are pulled in and out to produce different tones and sounds. The pedals on this pump organ have recently been fixed after replacement canvas straps were found. The canvas strap that connects the pedals to the bellows spring, which opens and closes the bellows, needed to be replaced. Now the organ plays music again.

Sitting next to the pump organ is another small organ that crossed the plains in a covered wagon. As the railroad expanded across the country, it was easier to move bigger instruments across the country and into Utah. The music in the parlor display has many different and unique musical instruments from long ago. You can glimpse into the way music was once listened to in the home by listening to the phonograph. The accessibility of music and the way it is played has changed, but it is still an important part of our lives.

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