The notice in Seven Days asked, in bold-faced type: “What the hell is a bellowphone?”
No explanation was needed; the notice included a photo of the improbable instrument. It’s a one-man band with horns, pipes, whistles, and a giant foot pedal that pushes air through the whole thing. I confess, I’d go a long way out of my way to see a one-man band setup, I just love them. The more tools, gadgets, levers and stops, the better! (Don’t even get me started on the ones with the wasboards and clap cymbals…)
The creator and performer of the Bellowphone is Leonard Solomon, who visited Montpelier’s Langdon Street Café last night as part of the venue’s 3-day “Vaudeville weekend”. (Must also mention the wonderful puppet show that preceded the Bellowphone performance; “Punch and Judy meet the Jolly Banker”. Moral of the story: when puppets take out hefty home equity loans there can be no winners. Not even the clueless, automaton jolly bankers.)
So, back to the Bellowphone – does it really bellow? Not really. It’s quite musical, honking and whistling in tune as it whimsically ripped through classical barn-burners like the Brahms Hungarian Dance #5, Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever march, and an inspired Rossini medley. The namesake ‘bellow’ actually refers to the giant wood footpedal, which depresses a large dimpled red ball of the kind you often see on playgrounds to blow air through the instrument (see picture below). Red dodgeballs also make a perfect bellow, it turns out, though it would take an inventive mind like Solomon’s to find a way to musically employ that realization. The Majestic Bellowphone makes a lot of music, and Solomon’s animated, deadpan delivery makes it great visual entertainment as well. He knows it’s silly. Of course it’s silly. Why not make the most of it visually and aurally?
There were other instruments as well, all equally unusual and musical, and all of Solomon’s own design and creation. A crowd favorite was a sort of portative pipe organ – TWO red ball foot pedals on that one… – he alternately called the “fortepianocalliophone”, or the “fortecalliopianophone”. It proved to be the perfect voice for a hilarious, reduced version of Suppe’s Light Cavalry Overture.
Solomon’s talents also extend to more conventional instruments: he played the house piano in a version of the Maple Leaf Rag, and pulled out the guitar for accompaniment as he sang soulful renditions of St. James Infirmary and Pamela Brown. The evening’s entertainment was made complete with the juggling and close-up magic that fill out the rest of Solomon’s variety show. (Gee, what’s it feel like to have talent, anyway?)
But the star was the Bellowphone, looming at the edge of the stage like a giant piped sentry watching over the rest of the show when it wasn’t being used.