Music Makers of the Past
- story by Ana Balka, photos by Annamarie Holbrook
I remember the first time I saw the Shoninger upright. It sat with perfect posture behind some end tables and magazine racks, next to a mannequin who wore nothing but a fur coat and the vinyl purse on her handless arm. An older guy had pushed furniture out of the way to accompany a woman singing a hymn. I listened.
“Do you play?” asked the man when they finished.
“No,” I answered. “But I’d love to learn.”
“You should get that piano,” he said. The instrument had a warm but assertive sound, and it was marked at only $250. We agreed that someone must have recently replaced the hammers on the keys, which all worked.
I didn’t have the money.
Fifteen years later I still have the piano, and I am no virtuoso. But I love that piano, and I’m forever grateful to the man in the antique store.
I’ll admit to being something of a sucker for instruments I see in second-hand stores, especially accordions (also no virtuoso, but they’re totally addictive), violins, and guitars. The violin I’ve used to play in rock bands for years is a 5-string Alvarez electric-acoustic that I found for something like $50 in an antique store in Atlanta.
Shay Sugars of Magnolia Antiques, 200 Main Street, reeled off a veritable philharmonic of used instruments and associated accouterments you can find now in their sprawling display room in Bay St. Louis: A melodica (“It’s like a keyboard you blow into”), $65 with carrying case; “Several metronomes, two really good vintage turntables, a vintage accordion, three trombones, some trumpets, and electric guitar, vintage acoustic guitars, a bass guitar...” Shay trails off, then remembers more. “A mandolin and a violin, and harmonicas.”
“Also kazoos. Vintage mint. And a lot of vintage sheet music.”
“I buy any good instrument that comes into the shop,” she says.
“We had a Merlin,” she says. “It’s a thin-bodied guitar by Seagull. Supposedly it’s got no bad notes, which is great for people like me.”
Magnolia Antiques has also come to be known for its unusually large selection of new and used ukuleles. Jack took up the uke habit at some point and, once his growing collection outgrew their house, they decided to start carrying them in the store. Right now there are around 70 of the small, guitar-like instruments in stock including electric, resonator-body (in copper) and bass ukes along with the classic wooden models in all sizes including peanut, soprano, concert, and tenor.
One dealer in the Youngs’ showroom specifically carries different types of horns and stringed instruments.
One of the more unusual instruments they had come through was a melodium, “From the 1800s — it was also a beautiful piece of antique furniture,” Sylvia says. “It had a little place to put your candle from back in the days when that’s still what they used. We say that’s where you put your drinks now.”
Whatever your musical taste, and whether you play an instrument or just think you might like to try, I recommend taking note of that lonely accordion in the corner when you’re out looking at antiques and vintage items.
While it’s rare that someone will step out of thin air and buy an instrument for you as the man in the antique store bought my piano for me, antique stores can yield some unique finds and give you the opportunity to give an old instrument new life.