Current Exhibits

In 1895, the Tampa Bay Hotel unveiled the period’s ultimate symbol of opulence, an ornate concert orchestrion that Henry B. Plant imported from Germany. Given that most of these mechanical marvels resided in the private estates of European royals and wealthy industrialists, Tampa residents now enjoyed a privilege afforded to few. But was it true, as the Tampa Tribune claimed, that the orchestrion “held the audience spellbound by its magic mimicry of a full band, none of whose fine modulations or delicate shadings were lost by this magnificent instrument”? How did technological innovation impact musicians and community gatherings at the Tampa Bay Hotel?

To answer these questions, this exhibit offers the unprecedented opportunity to examine rare mechanical instruments first-hand. In addition to an authentic M. Welte and Söhne concert orchestrion, Imperfect Harmony features a Mermod Frères cylinder music box from the 1893 Columbian Exhibition, the world’s fair that dazzled visitors with the promise of a technological revolution. It displays an automatic violin player that employs a circular rotating bow and a motorized “finger” to play a real stringed instrument. Ultimately, these inventions did not replicate human artistry, and they failed to supplant the vital roles played by members of the Tampa Bay Hotel Orchestra and local musicians in the Cigar City’s community life. This exhibit gives names, faces, and stories to the performing artists who etched concerts and celebrations into local community memory.

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Phonographs ended the heyday of automatic musical instruments, and they raised new questions about the impact of recorded sound on popular culture and community life. Promoters of the new mass-market economy of the 1920s argued that, unlike mechanical instruments, a gramophone could be purchased on credit by anyone, even working-class consumers. They predicted that the spread of mainstream popular music recordings would undermine traditional cultures, reducing differences of race, nativity, and class during a period of intense social conflict. This exhibit asks visitors to think critically about this plan. Is it possible that Tampa’s diverse communities adapted the new recording technology to revitalize rather than abandon traditional cultures? In the end, the most enduring impact of the phonographic revolution was the influence that African American “race records” achieved in reshaping popular music tastes in the United States.

As artificial intelligence raises new concerns about technological innovation and artistic production, don’t miss the opportunity to consider the historical roots of this conflict in Imperfect Harmony: Man, Machine, and Music at the Tampa Bay Hotel.

This exhibit is graciously underwritten by:
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In Memory of Art Keeble  MuseumSocietyLogo.jpg