The Music Of The Grand Gavioli

| July/August 1976

Box 146, Mt. Royal, New Jersey 08061

In the late '20's and the early '30's the only amusements of any importance that I remember, were the traveling carnivals with their beautifully painted steam showman's engines and their ornately carved carousels. I was a boy then, and the area was Norfolk, England.

If I can remember correctly, there were about three outfits that always visited this part of Britain, there were Underwoods, Harry Grays, and termed the best was Kenny Grays. Kenny had the joy of all, he had a nice set of what the English refer to as, steam driven gallopers. I think that this was a Savage machine, but the years have gone by and time tends to dim ones memory, although I can always remember my Great Grandfather asking me, 'Did you get a road on the big steam hoses yet'.

What fascinated me, I think, the most was the organ with its moving carved figures and drum sticks that always were in time with the music. I can remember seeing the almost endless belt of slotted card going through some sort of box, that, at that period of my life, I had no idea of its identity. The organ was the center piece and this seemed to give everything the correct atmosphere, for a carousel without an organ is sort of like a record-player with no needle. It goes round and round and nothing comes out. At  times the smoke would drift down from the engine stacks and the attendants of the coconut shy's were shouting always the same words that go along with the song; 'What a lovely bunch of coconuts a penny a pitch'. There would be the roar of the crowd along with the cracking of rifles in the shooting gallery, the clicking of the rods of the engines and the steady hum from their generators. Then, above all this came the melody of a Strauss waltz reproduced by the mechanics of that Italian genius, Ludovic Gavioli.

Gavioli was the greatest organ maker of all, and as his organs became more and more popular at the European galas and fairs, he moved his works from Modena to Paris, France in 1845. There he was more localized to cope with an increasing market. With the development of the British steam driven merry-go-round, there became a much greater demand, and it seemed as though the organs got larger and larger. It may also be of interest to know that nearly all of the crown jewels of Queen Isabella of Spain were smuggled out of the country inside of one.

There are many names given to these machines and the first one always makes me sort of revolt, that is the name, Calliope. There is Pipe Organ and Hurdy Gurdy, and I have also heard mine called a Calliola. I suppose that in these modern days it could be referred to as an automatic pneumatic organ, but for a better name, I think, that band organ is a much more appropriate definition. Programming was carried out in the earlier machines by a large barrel into which were inserted pegs that lifted up the keys of the valves that admitted the air to the various pipes and movements. This however, had its limitations, for only five tunes could be pegged and the change from one tune to the other was done by sliding the whole barrel endways bringing the next row of pegs under the corresponding keys.