barrel organ

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barrel organ

barrel organ, mechanical musical instrument requiring nothing but the regular rotary motion of a handle to keep it going. It probably originated at the beginning of the 18th cent., and was once used extensively in English churches. A revolving cylinder is fitted with pegs that open valves, permitting air to enter a set of organ pipes. Some larger ones have several sets of pipes and various couplers. They can be operated by clockwork, by weights, and by electric motors. A portable type of barrel organ whose cylinder is turned by a hand crank has been mistakenly called hurdy-gurdy, from which it is fundamentally different.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Barrel Organ


a mechanical wind instrument. The barrel organ, a type of portative organ, resembles a small box and consists of bellows, organ pipes in one or more ranks, and cylinders equipped with metal pins. As the cylinder is turned by a hand crank, the pins engage a special mechanism that opens a passage permitting air to reach the pipes; at the same time, air is pumped by means of the bellows. Some barrel organs have replaceable cylinders and can thus perform several musical pieces. The instrument, which first appeared in Western Europe in the 18th century and in Russia in the first quarter of the 19th century, was popular among itinerant musicians. The barrel organ is called a katerynka in the Ukraine and a katarynka in Poland.


Buchner, A. Musikinstrumente im Wandel der Zeiten. Prague, 1956.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

barrel organ

1. an instrument consisting of a cylinder turned by a handle and having pins on it that interrupt the air flow to certain pipes, thereby playing any of a number of tunes
2. a similar instrument in which the projections on a rotating barrel pluck a set of strings
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
Street musicians played barrel organs on the street corners, while others played fiddles, banjos, whistles and accordions desperately trying to earn a few coppers.
That's why I'd like to go to heaven please because I know hell will be full of barrel organs and lady opera singers cuddling little yappy dogs, and eldest son's hell will have wall-to-wall ticking clocks.
Carol singers, barrel organs handbell ringers, clog dancers and barbershop singers are just some of the attractions.
They included stilt walkers, bell ringing, barrel organs, trips up to the top of the church tower, a tiddlywinks display, a tribute to the village's history as the centre of the scythe making industry and a parachute drop from a Tiger Moth aeroplane.
Opting for more traditional approach, the event at the Tipton heritage site will include a bonfire, Guy Fawkes dummy, a brass band sing-a-long and a fanfare of barrel organs.
Florence Burke, 73, remembered her grandparents who came to Liverpool to operate barrel organs.
A fanfare of barrel organs, showman's organs and a brass band will instead play a medley of popular sing-a-long tunes.
Barrel organs and costumed characters will add to the atmosphere.
Barrel organs and a brass band will stir up musical memories as popular sing-a-long tunes ring out along the cobbled streets.
But there will be three roaring bonfires, traditional entertainment with barrel organs, brass band, hot roast chestnuts and a fairground.