The second organ I managed to talk my parents into buying back when I was in high school was a Conn theaterette style; the actual model number of the thing is now lost somewhere in my memory. Unlike the salesman who sold us the first organ (a Lowrey), the Conn salesguy convinced my parents that splurging on some external speakers for the thing would be a good idea for getting a decent theater organ sound out of it (and I’m sure it didn’t hurt his commissions on the sale, either). There were two big boxes that sat on the floor on either side of the organ, and some additional speakers that were dressed up to look like pipes that sat atop the big boxes. The reeds, strings and diapasons came through one of the large floor box speakers as well as the pipes, and the tibias (flutes) came out of the other large box which contained a Leslie speaker.
You know how sometimes you just accept the name of an object without ever questioning why they’re named the way they are? Well, that’s exactly how I was when it came to the Leslie speaker. That’s what they said it was — a Leslie speaker — and it never ever occurred to me that there was a reason or a story behind the name. Only today did I learn that story.
My first step towards Leslie enlightenment came today when I found this story at wired.com about how certain sound effects in music are obtained. This paragraph gives away the secrets of the tremolo:
His tremolo piece works by hooking up an instrument input to a red speaker that spins like a weathervane. The sound is fed into Boock’s design and piped out of this rotating hornlike opening. As it spins in circles, our ears hear the sound take on a pulsating effect because of the fluctuating volume levels. It’s the same effect speaker builder Donald Leslie pioneered in the 1930s.
The link at the end of the paragraph takes you to a wikipedia entry about Leslie speakers, and says this:
The speaker is named after its inventor, Donald Leslie. Leslie began working in the late 1930s to get a speaker for a Hammond organ that had a closer emulation of a pipe or theatre organ, and discovered that rotating sound gave the best effect. Hammond was not interested in marketing or selling the speakers, so Leslie sold them himself as an add-on, targeting other organs as well as Hammond. Leslie made the first speaker in 1941. The sound of the organ being played through his speakers received national radio exposure across the US, and it became a commercial and critical success. It soon became an essential tool for most jazz organists. In 1965, Leslie sold his business to CBS who, in 1980, sold it to Hammond. Today, Suzuki Musical Instrument Corporation owns the Hammond and Leslie brands.
So, some 40-years-plus after taking up the organ, I’ve learned something new about it that I should have questioned or at least wondered about way back when, but never did.
I don’t know why this makes me laugh, but it just does.