Speelklok Museum- Utrecht, Netherlands

The acrobat

I had my first tosti at the cafe in the Speelklok museum. It is basically a grilled cheese sandwich with ham made on a panini grill, but man, it was amazing! Perhaps that was because I ate it in peace with Landon sleeping in the stroller. I wanted to go to the Speelklok museum to see a wide variety of automatic musical instruments. I enjoy anything musical, so I knew I would love it. I was not disappointed. When I arrived, a tour had just started and so I jumped right in. Luckily for me, the tour guide went seamlessly back and forth between English and Dutch. Taking a tour is the only way to hear some of the more rare instruments play, because they do not want people touching them/breaking them. We saw many small music boxes, and then went to the “toy” section. This acrobat music box did lots of tricks, and played music. Wealthy people would buy these to put out on the table after dinner, and before dessert to entertain and impress dinner guests.

Above is a clip of a small music box with a hidden dancing scene. 
After playing around with a bunch of automatic and hand crank organs, we went into the room with the bigger organs. They were not just self-playing pianos/organs, but some had other musical instruments on board as well, like violins or percussion. Before the record player became popular, and if a live band was not available, organ crankers would set up their dance hall organs in a dance hall and charge people entrance fees for each song. That meant that after each song, everyone had to leave and then he charged everyone entry again for the next song. The songs were programmed onto cards that could be changed out in between as well. 

Automatic triple violin and piano/organ

This instrument was one of my favorites. It had three violins plus piano. Whoever invented this was seriously talented! There were pegs that held down the strings to play the notes on the violins, and the bows went around in a circle so all three could play at the same time. Here is what it sounded like:

Dance hall organ

Our guide shared with us that some organ crankers would purposely do short songs to try to make more money. Sometimes this backfired when people caught on and decided not to dance anymore. These organs were really loud, and about this time Landon was rudely awakened from his nap by a blaring organ! The dance hall organs were meant to be portable, and so they could be taken apart into smaller pieces and moved from place to place. I just loved how ornately decorated and beautiful they all were.

The clip above is a 1920’s era piece that was popular back then at the dance halls.

The grand finale of our musical tour was an organ that was somehow hooked up to be able to play contemporary/digital music as well as off of organ cards. It was a fairgrounds organ, so it was used to attract people to the fairgrounds. That means it was also by far the loudest organ they had. She played us “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. It was fun to hear a contemporary piece come out of such an old, automatic instrument.

This organ could play contemporary music as well as organ cards

Piano and percussion
Before vinyl, music could be recorded on thin metal disks
After the tour, Landon woke up so we went quickly through the interactive sections of the museum. We had a key card that was programmed to tell the audio player to give explanations in English, so I could put the card in a slot and learn about the instruments. The first part of the self-guided part of the museum talked about the different mechanical principles involved in getting an instrument to play by itself, as well as showcased some of the oldest self-playing instruments and record players. 
Learning about key action

The oldest self-playing instrument,
a clock

Kid’s play clock with door that opened

Church organ

In the next room, there was a giant clock that kids could crawl around in. Most of the other kids there were much older than Landon, but that didn’t stop him from getting right in there with the rest of them. He wanted to stay in there all day, and would not come out, so I had to crawl in and haul him out to get on to the next thing. There was an interesting movie that told of the rise and fall of automated instruments. Once music recordings could be made, the instruments became obsolete and more of a collector’s item than something everyone wanted in their home. Now, with all the big speakers out there and digital music that can be played VERY loud, automated instruments, especially those used for fairs and dance halls, are all but obsolete. 
Organ books
The museum is housed in an old, remodeled church. The organ they kept intact, of course, and there were fun spiral staircases to get up on the 2nd floor. There were a few notable items on the 2nd floor, including this giant shelf of organ books that would be fed through with a hand crank to play a song. There were old tunes as well as some newer tunes among the books. 
Also on the 2nd floor was a special area for kids to create their own organ card. By punching out the marked holes on this card pictured below, you could make a song that would play when cranked through the little wooden box organ. I had to do the punching because Landon does not have that kind of coordination yet, but we worked together to crank it and it played the song “Frere Jacques.” There were also plastic templates that you could use to make other songs. I knew with Landon’s attention span that going for the shortest and easiest song was best. He still thought it was pretty cool that it played music though! 
If you are interested in music or have kids that are interested in music, this is a fun museum for them. I would recommend the exhibits and activities for kids 4 and up. Landon was a bit too young to really appreciate what it was all about, but liked the music and the running around part. 

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