Pump Organs vs. Pianos | Bowing Down Home

From the late 19th century until just after World War II, the pump organ, or harmonium was the Island's most popular fiddle-music accompaniment instrument. The pump organ looks like a small, ornate upright piano, but where the piano would have pedals, there are two treadles. When the player steps on them, they pump a stream of air through a bellows over metal reeds that produce the organ’s sound.

At first, these hardy instruments were far more common than the much more temperamental piano because they were relatively light, required little servicing, and their metal reeds rarely needed tuning. Pianos didn’t do as well in the Island's cold, wet climate, and worse, could rarely be moved even a short distance — between neighboring houses or from church to community hall—without being put out of tune or out of repair.

Beginning around 1945, the number of pianos in rural Prince Edward Island homes increased sharply. Recorded and broadcast fiddle-music featured piano accompaniment and made the sound popular. New post-war prosperity meant more families could afford piano tuning and maintenance. They could also install central heating so pianos were not as prone to climate-based problems.