From the beginning of time humans have used musical sounds as part of their daily lives.
Scientists believe that about 60,000 years ago a simple flute was probably the first musical instrument, but perhaps percussive noises could have been made by banging two sticks or rocks together and of course there is the human voice, songs or chants based on religious beliefs or ceremonies.
Today music plays a big part in many lives with a huge variety of instruments as well as amazing advances in technology.
The museum holds a number of interesting musical instruments. One such item is a melodeon or “squeezebox” as it was commonly known. This example was common in the period between 1910 and 1920.
This concertina-style instrument was developed in both Germany and England during the 17th century. The melodeon, often called a harmonium or concertina, was a small very portable musical instrument, simple to play and ideal for use in confined places such as a ship’s cabin or in the home. It worked on the principle of air being forced across reeds which resonated when buttons were pressed. This melodeon has 10 note buttons, see photo.
This example was made in Germany by the Regal Instrument Company, with its trademark of a hunting horn. The bellows are decorated with painted flowers, the ends are varnished, the buttons and embellishments are brass.
The melodeon really caught on in America and became the major source of entertainment in American homes. It found its way into social halls, churches, schools and even foreign missions and ships at sea. Unlike the piano, the melodeon seldom needed maintenance or tuning and was virtually indestructible in normal use.
Further research found that this style of melodeon was played in the trenches of the First World War to boost morale and remind soldiers of home and family times spent singing and playing together.
The portability and simplicity of these types of musical instruments allowed for their use to spread widely around the world and they were particularly linked to folk music and even persist to this day.
However, progress will have its way and by the early 20th century the melodeon had been surpassed by the piano accordion with its recognisable keyboard and body strap to leave both the player’s hands free. Further advancements in technology have produced electronic and amplified instruments. The piano accordion is now an accepted instrument in both the classical environment and in the pop music field.
The museum’s melodeon is in excellent condition and one wonders what it would sound like today and what stories it could tell if it could speak.
It was donated to the museum by Harland White.
Alison Sofield, Volunteer Collections Kiwi North.