June 2001

Adding MIDI Operation To Mechanical Band Organs

An abundance of communications has been received recently asking my opinions with regard to implementation of a Stinson MIDI Music System, with reference to both new and vintage mechanical band organs. Since I am immersed with interest this matter, I feel compelled to offer my experiences, evaluations, and honest opinions.

If you read the recent article within the Carousel News and Trader, you will identify that the Stinson Band Organ Company is offering the opportunity to add a high tech MIDI music operating system to your band organ that is said to perform in a far superior manner than we band organ owners are accustomed to. Since those who own band organs generally desire to play good music, and lots of it, the MIDI article has gotten the attention of many of us. Immediately, it comes to mind, that the old timers might have desired or tried to build organs of yesteryear to sound like band organs built today by Stinson, but they most likely elected not to due to costs, or they couldn’t considering the times and components available? Recall, not so long ago, quiet brushless motors and blowers were introduced that offered trouble free performance, and the opportunity to replace obsolete bellows. Today, we are being told about a small readily available MIDI disc that is said to operate band organs more effectively than can be imagined?

After reading the article, I had to ask myself, what substantiation might there be to mess with paper rolls that I can’t get anymore? However, since paper roll music frames exist within my band organs, and I continue to have the desire to leave them in place, I learned that I can do this without missing the opportunity to enjoy hundreds of MIDI sequenced tunes that are now available, and are specifically timed to operate my band organs better than ever! Better yet, I am learning that I will never again miss an opportunity to enjoy tunes, yet to be written, or those that maybe exist in the archives of maestros worldwide that never saw the likes of a paper roll, but can be readily sequenced onto a MIDI disc anytime for a very reasonable cost.

Think about it, if we could communicate with the old timers, who operated mechanical band organs from the past, using paper rolls day after day, would they choose a 10 tune paper roll that required careful handling, or a 40+ tune MIDI disc they could have stuck into their back pocket, and changed in seconds? On this note, it is my opinion that addition of a Stinson MIDI Music System to a mechanical band organ adds considerably to its ability to perform while leaving historical or traditional paper roll music systems in place. This is what the Stinson Band Organ Company appears to be talking about when they state that MIDI does not compromise the original paper roll music system that exists within new and vintage band organs. If in doubt, take a moment to stand in front of any band organ for the purpose of identifying if it is operating on MIDI, or paper rolls. Unless the paper roll frame is exposed, and not moving, the only clue that you will have is your ability to determine if the band organ is producing a musical performance that you had never before enjoyed!

MIDI allows you to select your favorite tune, or tunes, and play them instantly. You can select the order of tunes to be played the same as is possible on your home CD player. Options include scrambling tunes, repeating, skipping, or any sequence that you desire. If you don’t like a tune, program the MIDI system to skip it! Another feature, two or more band organs with MIDI systems can be connected together and play the same tunes in sync at the same time! Just imagine, at a Rally, the excitement of several different band organs playing the same tune in sync, all at the same time, and just think, this can be done wireless!

New arrangements, understood to be forthcoming on MIDI discs, are anticipated to be absolutely super. Consider, you might encounter the desire to play a tune on your band organ from Oklahoma. Presently, you have the problem to locate an available paper roll, if there is one. Alternatively, you could attempt to locate somebody who might have the ability to cut a paper roll, maybe. But, if Oklahoma were not already available on a MIDI disc, the ability to sequence Oklahoma tunes on a MIDI disc readily exists. A great advantage of MIDI is, tunes are becoming available that were never, and never will be, cut on paper rolls. Tunes sequenced on a MIDI disc are generally enhanced to sound far superior to tunes cut on paper rolls. The reason is basic, digital response time to actuate valves is considerably faster than can be achieved mechanically.

MIDI is appearing to open the door to bringing magnificent band organs back into the limelight, which speaks to supply and demand. This situation in turn has the potential to effect present and future value. Logic speaks loudly, in the future, band organs equipped with MIDI music systems are more likely to enjoy an increase in their value.

In response to concerns expressed with regard to preservation, the addition of a MIDI Music System, within a paper roll operated mechanical band organ, does little or nothing to compromise that which exists within the band organ. MIDI components are small electronic devices that are hidden from view. Paper roll frames can stay in place, and remain to be operable at the flip of a switch. So, in reality, what you accomplish with MIDI is the best of all worlds! You continue to have the ability to monitor your band organ, and play paper rolls at will, or stop the roll frame, switch on the MIDI, and transform the band organ to become operator free!

If one's intention is to historically preserve an 80 year-old band organ for its originality, or as a collector item, it is possible the addition of a MIDI music system might not be appropriate. However, if the owner really desires to listen to and present the highest quality of music possible from their band organ, a MIDI system is definitely the answer...

Personally, I became convinced that I was missing the boat on the day that I sat and listened to Stinson’s new “Mighty 2000M-2 Orchestral Band Organ” that Stinson delivered to the Astro Amusement Company last year. I was simply astounded, and quickly realized, that I had to get with it! I have therefore scheduled my Stinson Style 187 to arrive at the Stinson factory on June 4th for the addition a Stinson MIDI Music System, and tune up, without further delay.

Til we meet again at the Merry-Go-Round,

Larry Kern, Sound Master

Next: Band Organ Note No. 29, September 2001
Previous: Band Organ Note No. 27, June 2001

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