Many years ago I sat down to watch a film on video (remember VHS tapes?) and as was customary there was a number of trailers advertising other films “coming soon”. One that stuck in my mind was for “She’s having a baby” (IIRC) some light hearted rom-com type thing. The reason it stuck in my mind was nothing to do with the film itself but the music running underneath all of the action.
It was a chirpy concertina-y piece I hadn’t heard before. I didn’t find out what it was for years until I was watching “Later… With Jools Holland” and it was there, in the middle of a medley of tunes. Jools commented that the music had a “Penguin Café” bit in the middle and the chase was on.
I scoured the place for “Penguin Café” and found my missing music. It was called “Music for a found harmonium” and the instrument of choice was indeed a harmonium. Of course these days Wikipedia is you friend
Since that first hearing I have wanted to have a ride on a harmonium.
But what is it?
For those that don’t know, a harmonium has a piano keyboard, Bellows from an organ and the workings of a mouth organ inside.
They come in two sizes really; “Piano” or “Sewing machine”. There was no way I wanted a piano sized item and even the small, desk top ones are really too expensive for a non-piano player to justify out of the spending money budget.
A nearly found harmonium.
Enter the local car boot sale. This has become too tempting of late and although I don’t often buy more than the weekly vegetables I am always on the lookout for something interesting, especially old computers for my collection.
There haven’t been any of those lately but “Swipe me” there was a Harmonium on one of the stalls. I wasn’t looking for one as such but you shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth so I got it.
Now, this item was previously owned by some arts centre and had seen a lot of action. The con-rods on the stops (note the technical terms) were all bent. A large number of the springs that make the keys return were bent. The bellows leaked and had been repaired with masking tape but after straightening the springs and putting them back, a quick pump of the bellows and that familiar sound came out. Yippee.
A quick look at the photos will show you just how much “life” it’s seen. A closer look at the internal shots will show that this probably isn’t a top spec instrument anyway but boy it’s fun.
A bit of a repair job.
Having looked over the instrument I wasn’t going to try for a restoration. Everywhere I looked there was damage. If I replaced everything that was damaged there would be nothing left. So instead I decided to make it work properly.
The original bellows were made from stout cardboard with some kind of kid leather over the joints. I took the old ones to pieces and copied the shapes onto some more stout card that I had stored for just such an occasion. I didn’t have any leather but I did have some neoprene covered nylon that I use for the skirt segments on the hovercraft so I used that.
Several hours and two tubes of impact adhesive later the job was done.
One of the handles was smashed and so I bought a couple of nice brass handles from eBay.