We watch as a terrifying bunny pops out of a cabbage and menacingly wiggles his ears. The rabbit is ancient, mangy, a child’s toy from France at the turn of the last century. We are standing in Utrecht’s “Speelklok” museum, a museum all about organs, and it is oddly fascinating. In fact, it is so intriguing that we can easily call it one of the best museums we have ever visited. The exhibits – all of which are still working – are arranged in chronological order, from the 15th century through the present, and range from tiny, animal-themed music boxes, to wearable barrel organs, to enormous, ear-shattering dance organs. By the end of the tour, our ears are ringing.
The world of organs, we learned, goes much further than those sitting in my grandmother’s parlor or played at mass. In the yesteryears of the Netherlands, organs were nearly as deeply ingrained in the Dutch identity as wooden shoes and Gouda cheese. Of these, perhaps the most famous was the street organ named The Arab, c. 1925. Another gem of the museum is a Hupfeld Phonoliszt Violina, a combo violin/organ made for the 1910 world’s fair.
Though few active street organs are left in the Netherlands, they reportably can still be heard in Amsterdam and the northern city of Groningen, a few hours from us. Apart from two accordion players who set up outside of both the city’s bookstore,Boekhandel Broekhuis, and downtown grocer, Albert Hein, we can confirm that there is no street music in Enschede. We are already making plans to visit the Netherlands’ northeastern province this spring to seek out some ear-splitting music played by authentic Dutch organ grinders.