Jun 22, 2012

A Wonderful Resource for Oddball Music..

The Edison Junior Cylinder Player
Professor Otto Robert Shurig lived on Wendell Avenue in Schenectady in the 1940s and '50s.  His daughter Janet went to school with my sister Ann.  So our families knew each other.  One day Janet informed me that her father wanted to talk to me about doing some work for him.

Somehow, Dr. Shurig had learned that I was skilled at repairing all things mechanical.  In fact, I still love anything mechanical and do have an aptitude for dismantling and reassembling even the most complex mechanical devices.  Dr. Shurig asked if I would be willing to work on one of the antique phonographs in his collection.  This was to be my introduction to the wonderful world of mechanical devices that produce sound.  Eventually I would work on several such gadgets to include not only cylinder and disk phonographs, but music boxes, player pianos, and organs.

The first item that he asked me to work on was a small Edison cylinder device.  I learned that it was called the Edison Junior model.  I learned that the cylinders used on this player only lasted 2 minutes.  Later devices played cylinders of 4 minutes' duration.  Dr. Shurig provided me with a few cylinders to use in testing the phonograph once I had repaired it.  By the way, after I had completely dismantled this instrument, I realized that all it needed was a thorough cleaning, lubrication, and adjustment to be like new.

I found this machine to be absolutely enchanting.  Even though I was a teenager at the time I worked on it, I would listen to those cylinders and be transported to a much earlier time.  I could imagine a family gathering around the phonograph's horn at the turn of the century and being amazed by the music.  I listened to the cylinders many times over.  The cylinders he had provided were "Molly and the Baby" a prohibition song, "Carry Your Cross With a Smile" sung by Homer Rodeheaver, and "Ain't Dat a Shame?"  Because I heard these songs so many times, I learned them and have sung them occasionally for the past 60 years.

The other day I ran across a remarkable asset on the Internet.  It's called the Library of Congress' National Jukebox.  According to the Web site, "At launch, the Jukebox includes more than 10,000 recordings made by the Victor Talking Machine Company between 1901 and 1925."  So even though it doesn't currently include any Edison cylinder recordings, I found the following versions of some of my "old favorites."

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