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12.10.2023: Edison Phonograph Demo @ Fayetteville Library

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

Have you ever been curious what it was like to listen to music in the old days? No, not CDs, older. No, not records either. I mean the really old days, like ONE HUNDRED YEARS ago old days.. what would listening to music then have been like? That question, and many more I didn't even know I had, was asnwered last weekend at the Fayetteville Library when nineteen year old Fayetteville resident Tim Delans gave a demonstration of his 1901 Edison Home Phonograph.

Tim and his phonograph.

Tim is a passionate tinkerer, who started out working with engines and has since followed his passions into other areas like photography, his Edison phonograph, and collecting wax cylinder recordings. He aqcquired the phonograph while working at a local antique shop. It was in non-working condition and he proceeded to restore it to fully working condition. It can both play pre-recorded cylinders and record audio onto blanks as well, both of which were demonstrated both to in the course of his demonstration.

Tim Delans demonstrating the recording capabilitys of his antique phonograph.

Tim not only demonstrated the functions of his machine, but also shared the history of his eaxct machine, the evolution of home music players, and the recoding industry in general. Fun fact: Did you know that early phonographs had no volume control? And that that is what gave rise to the saying "Put a sock in it!"? Indeed, to reduce the (surprising) volume these early machines were capable of, people would jam rags, and yes, even socks into the bell to reduce the volume of the music!

Just some of the recordings Tim has collected.

In what can only be described as a stroke of kismet and small town luck, the local ties of Tim's presentation extended beyond Tim and the provenance of the device itself, but also to a recording in his collection as well. In attendance was Martha Lacy. Martha, a long time CNY resident, is the granddaughter of singer George Wilton Ballard. George, a tenor who at one time sang with The Met Opera, was the first person to sing for Thomas Edison, and would later go on to tour with the Edison company to promote the machines. On stage in a theater, he would sing and would abruptly stop mid song leaving a phonograph recording of him to carry on, to demonstrate the quality of the recordings and the machines ability to play it back. Tim has a recording of George singing, and it's one of only 200 copies produced. Martha brought with her a scrapbook of her grandfathers career, which was available for the audience to look through following the demonstration.

Martha Lacy introducing the audience to the recording of her grandfather, George Wilton Ballard

I must say, I was impressed with the breadth and depth of knowledge shared as well as the machine itself. For being over a hundred years old, the sound was loud and clear, albeit with the characteristic tinnyness of those old time recordings. I was surprised to learn that the cylinders were all limited to 2 or 4 minutes in length. Having grown up witnessing the evolution of music from 33 1/3 rpm records, to CD's, and CD changers, to the endless music now streaming from services like Spotify, it's surreal to picture what it must have been like to be at a party and have to have someone changing recordings and winding up the machine after every 2-4 minute song. Hearing the music blaring forth from the big brass trumpet horn was like stepping back in time. It was an experience I'm grateful I was able to add to my memory banks, and while Thanksgiving is past, it made me just a little more thnkaful for my airpods and having Spotify at my beck and call! If I'd had to get my music from a cyclinder while writing this, by the time I got to writing this sentence, I'd have spent more time getting up to wind my phonograph and change cyclinders after each song than I would have spent writing! Here's to progress!

More Photos from the Event:

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