NFSCD #4-Biting A Chew Off A Plug…

Pinch & Punch Riff Raffers,

An interesting insight into how the mouth organ was perceived in the colonies during the late nineteenth century.

img_2045-1(Sydney Evening News, Thursday 9th August, 1894)

Here’s the full transcript with a ‘pic’ thrown in.




After having decided either to go and hear the Premier propound his policy at the Protestant Hall last night, or to see his rival, Mr. Harry Foran, gentleman, egged and floured outside, we altered our mind, and decided to go and hear another kind of ‘MOUTH ORGAN CONTEST’ which we saw advertised in the Evening News. The scene of the contest was Howard’s Music Warehouse on Brickfield Hill, and thither we went, much marvelling what manner of instrument a ‘mouth organ’ could be, and the sort of music it would be likely to afford. Inquiry elicited that THIS ORGAN WAS A HARP and that this harp no more resembled a harp than it did Mons. Wiegand’s superb pet at the Centennial Hall, or the infernal Italian barrel organ. It proved to be nothing more than the simple little reed instrument into which the lyrical larrikin pours all the sentiment of his soul when wooing his ladylove either at Chowder or Bondi. The technical term for the instrument is ‘concert harp’ and it has of late become commoner in Sydney than the penny whistle or the concertina. The organiser of the contest, who surely must be a lineal descendant of HOWARD, THE PHILANTHROPIST, pointed out that it was the first of a series arranged, not so much to promote the sale of mouth organs among the musically illiterate male and female youth as to elevate their sentiments, refine their manners, and to make them worthy in every sense to hold a golden harp in the celestial choir where the moralising influences of the terrestrial mouth organ are neither known nor required. He frankly admitted that he got his SCHEME OF MUSICAL REDEMPTION from no less a personage Mr. Wm. M’Millan, who had once publicly declared that music alone could charm the larrikin out of the land. Pointing to a group of youths who were present the promoter enthusiastically referred to them as some of the most remarkable manipulators of the mouth organ he had ever heard, and promised that their performance would astonish us. And so it did. Apparently these contests are conducted on the CARRINGTON HANDICAP PRINCIPLE, being run off, or rather blown off, in heats or batches. The contest is judged by points in ‘effects, tempo, tone, and vamping,’ by a duly appointed adjudicator, who on this occasion proved to be none other than Mr. G. D. Simon, who acted as sole adjudicator at the last Wallsend Eisteddfod. The competitors drew lots as to the order in which they should compete, and that question once decided they went to work with a will. There was no conductor or accompanist, each performer being all in all to himself, even to composing his own selections, as was the case in one instance. Each competitor chose his own selections, of which he played two. These for the most part consisted of popular melodies or dance music, such as delight those whose souls find vent through a mouth organ, among them being ‘e dunno were ‘e are, the ‘Swanee River,’ ‘Blue Bells of Scotland,’ ‘Champagne Charlie,’ ‘Knocked ‘Em in the Old Kent-road,’ the ‘Emigrant’s Farewell,’ ‘Nancy Lee,’ and the ‘ Chowder Bay Waltz,’ the last-named being a composition of the performer himself, a youth of some 17 or 18 years of age. It is due to the composer to say that ‘ Chowder Bay’ sounded no better nor worse than ‘Blue Danube’ when played on the mouth organ. As musicians the competitors were truly clever, considering’ the instrument they played and the variety of sounds they managed to evoke was almost as much a matter of astonishment as the facial and physical contortions which accompanied their efforts. The favourite position of the players is A LOPSIDED AESTHETIC POSE, with the head thrown back sideways, and the eyes fixed on the ceiling with a steady, stolid stare. Nothing is seen of the organ, which is covered by both hands, so that the player looks very much as though he were gnawing a tough crust or biting a chew’ off a plug. Like all other devoted instrumentalists the mouth organist has his distinguishing marks. The pianist, violinist and harpist are said to be distinguished by the shape of their fingers and nails, and the cornet player by the ‘bugle lip.’ The inverate mouth organist is known by the shape of his mouth and the bulbous form of the lips which long continued exercise is said to induce. Be this as it may, it is certain that UGLY MOUTHS MAY MAKE MUSIC was proved by last night’s performance. Whether the performers are elevated and refined in the manner indicated by Mr. M’Millan is a matter of opinion. Certain it is, however, that the mouth organ is fast becoming the instrument of the people. Its cheapness and simplicity give music to those who neither have nor desire any other, and if, in the language of the promoter of last night’s unique contest- ‘the mouth organ is a moral agent, it makes the young men who play it at random by ear feel some sort of a love for the beautiful which – is in every human heart, because if they did not feel at heart they could not play so sweetly by ear’— then the mouth organ with all its comical concomitants must not be accounted a ‘nuisance. A thing of beauty is a joy, while it still remains in fashion. (Anon)

There you go.



PS: A couple of new additions to the Aussie Models Timeline since we last spoke. Also an upload to Soundcloud-a riff lesson to a well known tune from the nineties that peaked at number nine on the ARIA charts. Hear here ‘Helen‘.

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