WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (AP) - Buddy Parker activates the Nickelodeon, and the old gadget springs to life, filling the small room with the lovely sounds of piano and violin.
The music is not pre-recorded or digitally reproduced. It is created by a piano structure, visible through the Nickelodeon’s window, and an actual violin lies horizontal within the wooden chest.
“See, that’s the bow right there,” Parker says, pointing to two small white objects that glide across the strings. “And these sticks down here are on the frets.”
The Violano-Virtuoso machine was built almost a century ago, but it still works exactly as it was designed to. Parker beams with pride as he shows it off and explains its mechanism.
He and his wife Peggy get to do this every day as they operate the Virginia Musical Museum and Hall of Fame, which they opened in 2013. From outside, the museum looks quite humble. It occupies the back room and second floor of the Parkers’ piano showcase on Richmond Road in Williamsburg, just off the exit ramp from Route 199.
But the grand tour takes some time, because there is a lot to see. The museum, showcasing a collection that Parker has put together over the course of several decades, has two primary themes - a historic look at the evolution of musical instruments, and a celebration of great musical talent from the state of Virginia. There are also artifacts from old Virginia amusement parks that once thrived at places like Buckroe Beach in Hampton and Ocean View in Norfolk.
Gloucester folk singer Bill Jenkins, who will headline a benefit concert for the museum Friday night at the Kimball Theatre, calls Parker “a collecting genius.” Jenkins, inducted a couple of years ago into the museum’s Hall of Fame, said he is fascinated to spend time perusing the various instruments that Parker has amassed over the years.
“I stand in awe of his collection,” Jenkins says. And how he ties it all together, from the clavichord to the harpsichord to the piano. It’s hard enough to do that if you’re a musician. But when you’re not a musician, and when you run an establishment for a specific type of instrument like he does, to have the knowledge to go out and get all those different types of instruments and tie them together historically - it’s amazing.”
Parker doesn’t play an instrument, but he has been selling and working on pianos for 50 years. He has always had a fascination with how instruments work.
He loves showing people the self-playing organ that used to reside at Norfolk’s Derry Funeral Home, which handled Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s funeral. And then there’s the 170-year-old music box built into a large roll top desk that had previously belonged to the descendants of James Madison and, later, to James Sprigg, the industrialist who made Smithfield hams famous.
In addition to the instruments and the amusement park memorabilia, his museum features a display on the evolution of recording technology, from a reproduction of Thomas Edison’s tinfoil phonograph to the compact disc.
From the old Buckroe Beach amusement park, the museum showcases a vintage “Laughing Sal” - a hulking papier mache mannequin who rocks back and forth while guffawing hysterically. There is also Bill Jenkins’ very first recording, a vinyl 45 that he made in the small recording booth at Buckroe in 1954.
Much of the second floor is dedicated to the Hall of Fame portion of the museum, honoring the musicians from Virginia. Here, Parker’s collection includes outfits worn on stage by Ella Fitzgerald, Pearl Bailey, June Carter, Patsy Cline and the Statler Brothers. Roy Clark’s boots are on display, as well as several items donated by Bruce Hornsby, and a shawl that Pearl Bailey made as a gift to Ella Fitzgerald.
In a room to itself is the gleaming 1978 Clenet Roadster that was previously owned by Wayne Newton (who bought it from Marvin Gaye’s estate).
“At one point Wayne owed some money to the IRS so he sold the car, and we ended up buying it from a man in Baton Rouge,” Parker says. “Wayne eventually called me and tried to buy the car back. We talked, and I listened to what he was offering, but I didn’t want to sell it.”
The museum is a labor of love for the Parkers, and they are constantly looking for ways to make it better. When asked about how he plans to direct the money raised at Friday’s show at the Kimball, Buddy Parker talks about needing $50,000 to add an elevator that would make the second floor accessible to handicapped guests.
“This is going to be our legacy,” Peggy Parker says. “We felt like it was something that should be done. It helps the community, and it helps local artists. This is our gift to the next generation. It’s our gift to our grandchildren.”
Information from: Daily Press, https://www.dailypress.com/
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