Noteworthy: Musical Instruments

By Elizabeth French-Gibson, Assistant Curator

closeup of organ keyboard

“Empress” Goderich Organ & Stool, an early 1900s model pump organ manufactured by the Goderich Organ Company, Goderich, Ontario, which produced organs from 1889 to 1930. Object ID 2006.0038.001

Like many children, for me growing up included music lessons.  My piano teacher was a wonderful lady who could actually play the piano with her hands behind her back.  My mother arranged to buy a used piano which still sits in our family’s living room.  Weekly visits to my piano teacher’s home, daily practice sessions at home, and yearly recitals were all a part of my growing years.  And like many people I soon forgot all my lessons and can barely play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star anymore.   Never more than now have I wished that I had practiced more and could still play.

Each day when I step into the exhibit “Noteworthy: Musical Instruments” at the Huron County Museum I wish that I could step up to those beautiful pianos and organs and play a beautiful tune.  Not that I would!  It wouldn’t be smart for the Assistant Curator to break the golden rule of Don’t Touch the Artifacts!   But I still wonder, what did each sound like when these were the centers of homes and churches throughout our County?

Noteworthy exhibit in the temporary gallery at the Huron County Museum, on display until September 14, 2014.

A partial view of the exhibit Noteworthy: Musical Instruments in the temporary gallery at the Huron County Museum, on display until September 14, 2014.

Unplayable, the beauty of these instruments now resides in their design.   Each piece in the exhibit is individual – tall, wide, stationary, portable, inlaid or carved.   I try to imagine looking through the Eaton’s Catalogue and choosing the Empress Organ designed, built and sold by the Goderich Organ Factory.  I imagine meeting a sales representative from the Doherty Organ Factory in Clinton to order an organ to be used in my church each Sunday morning.  I imagine requesting that the company design a special portable organ to be carried to schools throughout the district by the music teacher.   Each order would have led to the inevitable anticipation of the music, sounds and joy the instrument would bring.  The many employees at our Huron County Organ factories took pride in manufacturing these pieces that were sent around the across Canada and internationally.

Beyond the pianos and organs, the exhibit also includes smaller instruments such as violins, accordions, autoharps, harmonicas, and even a serpent horn.   Yes a serpent horn – an instrument that looks like a snake!  Put them all together and the room has a feeling of warmth and mystery as you imagine the fingers that coaxed the music from each one.

Display case with an accordian, drum, and serpent horn.

Display case with an auto harp, drum, and serpent horn.

You can enjoy the beauty of these musical instruments at the Huron County Museum until September 14th in our Temporary Exhibit Gallery.  And if you still remember your childhood music lessons there is one piano at the Museum on display that was donated with the permission and hopes that it still be played.  Believe me, it is a beautiful sound when the notes drift through the exhibit halls and offices as a visitor takes the time to play this piano.   And each time that happens I wish a little more that I remembered how to play too.

This article also appeared in the 27 August 2014 edition of the Goderich Signal-Star.