Aug 13 • 4M

What Are They Doing in Heaven Today? (demo)

with bonus Gear Talkin'™ #7

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Your captain is busy looking out the window of the bus while on tour with Wilco today, so here is another edition of GEAR TALKIN’™ by Loft manager Mark. Enjoy!

The Loft’s Dolceola, made by the Toledo Symphony Company circa 1905.

Today in the Gear Talkin’™ spotlight is the wonderful and rare dolceola, a chime-y keyboard zither invented and produced by two brothers, David and Leander Boyd, in a Toledo, Ohio piano store around the turn of the century (yeah, that other one). Less than 5000 were manufactured before the dolceola's moment passed in 1907, when people decided to turn their attention to things like the first electric washing machines and tuberculosis. Remember, this was only a few years after phonographs and jukeboxes were available on a wider scale, so maybe all this new "take home" music lit some sort of spark in the general public to want to make music of their own. This was also around the time of the invention of the player piano and other “automatic” instruments like the autoharp, which gave people the ability to play music even if they didn’t have the ability to, you know… actually play music. No talent required. Small companies like Marxochime Colony, the Toledo Symphony Company, the Phonoharp Company, and International Musical Corp seized the moment and flooded the market with pretty nutty parlor instruments… invented contraptions that made it easy to go from zero to sixty for players at any level. Ahh! Nothing like instant gratification.

The Loft’s Marxophone/Celestaphone, made by the Phonoharp Company.

Years ago when Jeff was readying music for Mavis Staples’s record One True Vine, which he produced, he asked Mavis to do a version of the Washington Phillips song “What Are They Doing in Heaven Today?”, a song that the Staple Singers covered earlier in their career. Phillips featured a dolceola on his original 1920’s recording (though I've also read it was a similar instrument called a duleola). They both have a lovely angelic fairy-dust sound. The only dolceola we could find at that time was not only very, very pricey but also very, very broken. Broken and pricey. Oh, thanks! Instead, Jeff reached for a Marxiphone/Celestaphone (think autoharp with stationary hammers striking and bouncing on each string) and created a gorgeous facsimile for Mavis’s recording. Although these days, The Loft finally has a beautiful old dolceola, and just between you and me, when I do one day quit modern life and run into the woods, I will have it tucked firmly under one of my arms when I go. DON’T TELL JEFF!

To hear Jeff’s demo version of this song for Mavis, proceed behind the paywall.

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