Friday, November 9, 2012

I Have An Organ To Grind!

****WARNING - Content may be interpreted by some "twisted minds" as offensive. On the other hand, if you've read even just one page of "Fifty Shades of Grey", not to worry.

I have some kind of weird fascination with organ grinders. I'm referring of course to the street performers. They have been a recurring theme during the last few years of my life, so I began taking photos and reading what I could to learn about this occupation. Apparently, in the latter part of the 19th century, organ grinders were considered people of ill repute or persons coming from the lower classes. They were most likely lumped into a category with gypsies and snake oil salesmen. I believe that nowadays, they would be considered more of an entertainer, a busker.

After my interest was piqued, I did a bit more research on this subject. I learned, for example, that there was an endless variation in the size of the organ. The grinder was a man, with a medium sized organ balanced in front of him. Sometimes, he required a strap around his neck to hold the organ, leaving one hand free to crank and the other to steady the organ. The organ would be cranked in a public place. He would often move from place to place in order to avoid being arrested. He would usually put a tin cup on top of the organ, or in the hand of a companion or animal, who helped solicit payments for his performance. There was an endless variation in the size of the organ. Larger organs were usually mounted on a cart, although some organ grinders were known to carry an instrument weighing over one hundred pounds. Impressive!
In the U.K., organ grinders were once considered beggars or nuisances. In Paris, they were licensed and in New York City, street organs were banned in 1936. Adolf Hitler also banned them in Germnay. I read someplace that he didn't care for them. On the other hand, it probably had something to do with the children's opera "Brundibar" about an evil organ grinder who was said to represent Hitler himself. 
 I realized on my vacation this past summer that there was something very familiar looking about the organ grinder above on the left. When I looked through my picture archives, I located the photo on the right, taken in 2008. Not much difference except that he's a bit older and now has a stool on which to rest between performances. Also, he's added an umbrella and a monkey to his repertoire. He seems to have found himself a lifelong lucrative spot at the Deutsches Eck.
Interestingly enough, I have only seen organ grinders in Germany and here, at a German Christmas market. This particular one was at the Christkindl Markt, Kitchener. He was quite entertaining. His organ was impressive although his monkey was a bit of a disappointment.

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