Manufacturing the Muse: Estey Organs and Consumer Culture in Victorian America

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Purchases of American reed organs between 1850 and 1910 exceeded that of pianos by almost two to one. Manufacturing the Muse is the story of the reed organ, a centerpiece in American parlors, churches, and gathering places for nearly a century. It is also the story of venerable New England entrepreneur Jacob Estey, whose industrial standardization of instrument manufacture strongly affected Victorian popular culture, social stratification, gender issues, and musical taste. Dennis Waring's examination of The Estey Organ Company (1846 to 1960) and its production and marketing strategies reveals much concerning the importance of the reed organ as a significant artifact in the history of American consumerism.

The companion CD includes a variety of period pieces, some selected from the Estey Organ Method, all played on Estey organs. Extensive appendices include surveys of Estey organ case design, free-reed making operations, diagrams, maps, timelines, and music. A generous number of photographs round out the book, which may be read as a good story as well as an important part of America's history.

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Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
Robert Moog's moment of revelation came in 1964 when he and a colleague realized the acoustic possibilities of a pair of voltage-controlled oscillators. "It was my turn for my head to blow," he recalls in Analog Days by Trevor Pinch and Frank Trocco (Harvard), a history of the Moog synthesizer. Electronic sound had, until then, been the province of the classical avant-garde, but the Moog came to dominate the counterculture—so much so that Mick Jagger hired one of Moog's staffers in 1968 to teach him how to play it.

Most musical instruments have less definite birth dates. The clavichord probably developed from precursors like the monochord and the psaltery sometime in the fifteenth century, but no one knows exactly how. Bernard Brauchli's The Clavichord (Cambridge) exhaustively charts the instrument's four-century career until its decline, in the mid-nineteenth century, when its extreme quietness put it at a disadvantage against the early piano. While music historians tend to dismiss the clavichord as a curio, Brauchli shows that it was crucial to music-making in intimate domestic settings and capable of expressive effects, like vibrato, impossible on other keyboard instruments.

A domestic ethos of a rather different kind influenced the rise of the Victorian reed organs celebrated in Manufacturing the Muse, by Dennis G. Waring (Wesleyan). Cheaper than a piano, these parlor organs appealed to the aspirations of the growing American middle class. Waring focusses on the Estey company of Vermont, whose instruments graced hundreds of thousands of drawing rooms, parlors, and churches. An accompanying CD showcases a dozen surviving instruments warbling such Victorian favorites as "Oh! Susanna" and "The Last Rose of Summer."

(Leo Carey)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780819565082
  • Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
  • Publication date: 7/29/2002
  • Series: Music Culture
  • Edition description: Audio CD.
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 7.86 (w) x 10.06 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Part I: Reed Organ Contexts
The Reed Organ and the Victorial Image
Sing the Ols Songs
Part II: The Estey Saga
The Perfect Melodeon
The Estey Organ Company
After Jacob Estey
Appendix A: timelines
Appendix B: Maps
Appendix C: Diagrams, Charts, and Tables
Appendix D: Estey Reed Organ Casework and Tonal Design by E.A. Boadway
Appendix E: Sound Production with Free Reeds by Ned Phoenix
Appendix F: Music Scores
Victorian Sounds on Estey Organs: The Compact Disc
References Cited

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