Dutch street organ lightens the mood

A County Durham funeral director is offering a unique way for families to say goodbye to their loved ones - with music from his Dutch street organ

Funeral director Stuart Wright with his organ
Funeral director Stuart Wright with his organ

And now for something completely different ... Hymns such as Abide With Me and Jerusalem were once top of the pops at funerals.

These days, many people prefer the soothing tones of Frank Sinatra or even Monty Python’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.

Now, funeral director Stuart Wright is offering all the fun of the fair when families say goodbye to their loved ones.

Mr Wright recently acquired a Dutch street organ used to entertain passers-by on the streets of Amsterdam.

He’s already had requests from people to play the music at funerals to help lighten the mood. Mr Wright, 45, who is based in County Durham, has had a passion for fairground organs since he was a boy.

His 40-year-old Perlee street organ built by a famous Dutch organ maker is now his pride and joy.

He has a smaller busker organ at his home in Lanchester but said: “That isn’t nearly as interesting as the Perlee.”

The 56-key organ was built by the Perlee family, the oldest barrel organ builders in Holland.

 

The Perlee plays music on cards using the same principle as a barrel organ.

Since taking delivery of the instrument, Mr Wright has been travelling around shows, fetes and charity events with the organ in his specially converted horse box.

He sometimes plays the organ in the street to the delight of passers-by, adding: “It brings back happy childhood memories for a lot of people.

“Old and young, people enjoy organ music.”

Mr Wright has a stack of about 100 music cards featuring, among others, street music from Paris and Amsterdam, Abba, the old Doris Day favourite Que Sera Sera, Colonel Bogey and the national anthem.

He now has hymns on order and said: “I’m more than happy to take the organ to funerals and I’ve already had requests from people working out their own funeral plans who want the organ played to lighten the sombre mood.”

The organ, which features the ornate figures of two Dutch bell ringers, arrived in the UK from Amsterdam last year and Mr Wright tracked it down to Manchester after hearing about it from fellow enthusiasts.

“It’s very popular,” he said. “It’s there to entertain the public and work for charity. It attracts big crowds. People are amazed by it. For older people it brings back a lot of memories of their childhood, but my daughter loves it and she’s only 18.

“It gives me a lot of pleasure. I have a passion for fairground organs and street music. I’m a musician, a church organist and a pianist. If we have no organist at a service I will gladly play for mourners.

“I’ve been an enthusiast since I was nine when I worked on an organ at a fairground in Yorkshire feeding the cards through.”

Mr Wright founded the family business in 1992 when he was the country’s youngest funeral director and now has branches in Gilesgate, Langley Park and Pelton, Chester-le-Street.

Daughter Rebecca, who took on the mantle of youngest funeral director when she joined the business from school two years ago, said: “He’s wanted a street organ like this since he was a kid and now he’s got me roped in.

“We’ve had loads of interest. You can hear it from miles away. People want it for flower shows, fetes, street parties, anything like that.”

Rebecca says hymns at funerals are becoming less popular: “Times have changed and we don’t get so many requests for hymns. If we are in church, yes, but if we are in the crematorium people much prefer their own favourites.

“I fear in my lifetime hymn books could become thing of the past.”

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