• Pulling Out All the Stops to Save a 40-Ton, 100-Year-Old World's Fair Pipe Organ Deep beneath San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza, in a windowless bunker called Brooks Hall, a 40-ton pipe organ gathers dust. Known variously as the Exposition Organ and Opus 500, the century-old instrument was a mechanical and musical wonder when it was unveiled in 1915, the seventh-largest organ in the world. "The city of San Francisco, this pretentious fishing village, has never respected it…
  • A Frenzy of Trumpets: Why Brass Musicians Can't Resist Serbia's Wildest Festival Aside from a certain subset of musicians, most Americans live a day-to-day life that is sadly free of brass music. In Serbia, however, any occasion is an excuse to bring out the horns. The joyous, off-kilter sounds of Balkan brass bands fill the air during weddings, births, housewarmings, funerals, and patron saint days. And every August, even in times of war and strife, Serbians celebrate the tru…
  • How a Gang of Harmonica Geeks Saved the Soul of the Blues Harp Harmonica players will suck and harmonica players will blow, but mastering the harmonica is tougher than its diminutive size and simple mechanics suggests. “The harmonica is actually pretty hard to play well,” says harmonica virtuoso Mickey Raphael, who has shared the stage with Willie Nelson for the better part of 40 years. “If you have a harmonica in the right key for a song, you can play any no…
  • The iPod's 4,000-Pound Grandfather These days, music lovers are spoiled. With one small handheld device, you can flick your thumb and hear anything you want—from Jay-Z or Lady Gaga to a postwar blues rag or a Bach concerto. Some of us remember when you had to get up and turn over the vinyl record to hear the "B side" of an album, or when you'd put foil on your antenna to pick up the best radio station from a sea of static. Yet we w…