The Musical Museum in Summer

Musical Opinion, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

The Musical Museum in Summer


Over the last few years we have often given news about the unique Musical Museum at 368 High Street in Brentford and in a Summer issue it seems the right time to remind our readers that this is a fascinating place to spend an afternoon, watching and even listening to one of the world's most important and comprehensive collections of automatic musical instruments.

The Museum was founded by the late Frank Holland MBE, who was an electrical engineer. When he was seven he was entranced by a reproducing piano, best known as a piano which is self- operating with piano rolls. He purchased his first piano in 1950 and continued rescuing them from destruction throughout that decade. In 1963 he gifted his collection to the nation in the disused Victorian church in which it is still housed. Since then, in Topsy-like manner, it has continued to grow and grow.

The Museum is entirely run by volunteers and over the years has gathered together a knowledgeable and highly talented team of restorers and conservationists dedicated to restoring old and infirm instruments to full working condition. Individual researchers are always welcome and the Museum always welcomes those who are willing to help them on a voluntary basis, working on the instruments and looking after the necessary tasks of running the ticket desk and the Museum Shop, as well as learning the restoration techniques and the presentation of the collection to the public.

The collection contains more than 200 instruments of all shapes and sizes, from small elegant musical boxes to grand pianos and ever grander organs, one of the best known being the mighty Wurlitzer from the Regal Cinema in nearby Kingston upon Thames. Instruments of special interest include the Steinway Duo-Art Grand Piano, which allows one to step back in time by perfectly reproducing the performances of artists as varied as George Gershwin and Dame Myra Hess; the Clarabella, which contains all the instruments of a small band; the fascinating Mills Violano-Virtuoso, which plays both a Violin and a Piano simultaneously; and the Wurlitzer, which has been enjoyed by countless listeners to the many broadcasts between the wars, and can be demonstrated without any organist at the console, with the help of the Wurlitzer Automatic Reproducing Roll Player, the one and only such attachment ever to have been installed in Europe. The Wurlitzer can also be coupled to a Grand Piano. Sound effects, such as Church Bells, Horse's Hooves, Sirens, Train Whistles and other noises which were so vital in accompanying silent movies, are all reproduced for the entertainment of visitors. Indeed, it is a good idea to spend a couple of hours there!

The Museum also organises live concerts on Saturday evenings at 7.45pm. On 28 August Len Rawle plays the Wurlitzer to celebrate the launch of his new CD on the organ. On 11 September Joyce Aldred makes a welcome return to the Wurlitzer. Ten years after his death the Museum's Founder, Frank Holland, is celebrated in a tribute called Ten Years On, when some of his favourite music rolls are presented by Richard Cole on 25 September.

Richard Cole returns on 9 October with Sullivan and Friends presenting a selection of Arthur Sullivan's music, some without any connection of Gilbert, together with music by his friends and contemporaries.

On 23 October the Season ends with Richard Cole presenting a selection of familiar favourites under the title European Light Music.

The concerts cost L3.90 and advance booking is essential, allowing two weeks for processing applications, which should be sent to the Musical Museum, 368 High Street, Brentford, Middlesex TW8 OBD, enclosing a stamped address envelope for return. The Museum is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 2 to 5pm between April and the last weekend in October and Wednesdays from 2 to 4pm in July and August.

The entry fee is L3.20 for adults and L2.50 for children and concessions. Family tickets are also available at L10.

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