Music for Dummies

Random memories have been popping into my head lately that have not been the result of a picture, song, or a smell. Inexplicably, these stray thoughts just drift into my mind. Yesterday, I was washing my hair and wondering what surprises I would see at a soccer game with three-year old players. Suddenly, those thoughts were pushed aside by a flashback of my grandmother’s Magnus Organ.

I don’t know why this memory was suppressed. It should have surfaced when I was discussing sleepovers at her house or the fact that she took piano lessons as a five year old, but you cannot control your thoughts.

When I mentioned this to Dad, he was able to describe this particular organ in detail, because his grandfather also had one.  Your Grandpa Misha, in addition to being a banker, was also a musician. This fact was documented on his record coming into Ellis Island.

I researched the company, and learned that the Magnus Company was located in Linden, New Jersey and initially manufactured harmonicas. In the late fifties, the company expanded into the electronic organ and songbook business.

The first organs sat on a table, but later models had legs. Because of its low cost and compact size, it was quite popular in its day, so it is not surprising that both my grandmother and Dad’s grandfather had them. I am not sure when this organ made its way to Cornelia Street.

My grandmother’s Magnus sat in her living room against the front window. I remember sitting at it and banging out some tunes from her songbook. Two songs in particular come to mind: The Band Played On (“Casey would waltz with a strawberry blonde and the band played on”) and my favorite, Beautiful Dreamer, which had some very catchy lyrics as well. I am sure you will agree.

Beautiful dreamer, queen of my song

List while I woo thee with soft melody.

Gone are the cares of life’s busy throng

Beautiful dreamer awake unto me.

I am certain that I did not know how to read music at that point in my life, but the Magnus Organ songbook was like an early addition of “Music for Dummies.” The keys were numbered 1-15, and the chords were labeled with letters. It was the musical version of painting with numbers.

So we all played the organ when visiting my grandmother in between watching Sing Along With Mitch, scratching her back, and pulling dark hairs from her chin. Did that organ come to our house when she moved in with Aunt Marian, or did Grandma and Grandpa purchase a second organ for the five of us? My foggy memory recalls it sitting in our basement, which was probably the furthest place out of Grandma’s earshot that she could place it. Perhaps the answer will pop into my head while I am pulling weeds or cleaning the screened porch.

Magnus Organ

                        Magnus Organ

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