I have a thing for weird museums.
So when I learned that Utrecht has an entire museum dedicated to self-playing instruments, it was a no-brainer. Of course we were going to Museum Speelklok.
The museum is housed in a medieval church, with a collection that includes music boxes, cuckoo clocks, carillons, and pianolas.
There were also antique mechanical toys, which mostly just really creeped me out.
These included stiff wooden people with serial-killer grins dancing around in circles, sporadically convulsing metal birds chirping in a cage, and acrobats that made loud metallic popping noises as they swung along a trapeze wire.
Yeahhhh. No thank you to all of the above.
But there were also (less creepy) street organs.
In other countries, street organs are just plain wooden boxes with a hand crank and a dancing monkey. But Dutch street organs are fancy, you guys. They’re pretty big, have multiple layers of pipes and percussion, and are decorated with ornate swirls and elaborate pictures.
Apparently this is because the Netherlands is relatively flat. So they were able to make massive street organs because they never had to push them uphill (or be worried about them flying downhill and crashing at the bottom).
(Okay, I didn’t say the street organs weren’t creepy at ALL, just less creepy than the mechanical toys.)
Obviously, these are antiques, and you’re not allowed to touch any of this really old stuff. But, there is an hour-long guided tour, where a museum employee will put on a pair of white gloves and play all it for you!
This is an example of a full size dance organ. (Yes, people would legitimately go to dance halls and ballrooms to dance to one of these things.)
The earlier dance organs were geared toward the waltz, two-step, and polka. However, as music changed, dance organs were upgraded for a higher degree of musical complexity. They were eventually modified for the Big Band jazz era, as well as popular Latin dance rhythms like the rumba, mambo, and cha-cha.
And they didn’t stop there…
Okay, if they can make Thriller happen, they can probably do other modern songs too.
Which makes me REALLY want this to be a thing again. Fully picturing a club with laser lights, a fog machine, and a dance organ bumpin in the corner. People doing the Whip and the Nae Nae and getting cray cray.
That can totally still happen, right??
Visit the Speelklok Museum in like 20 years or so. You might just see a new exhibit.