Developing the ‘Music Machine’
The design of the music machine took shape gradually. Bill made a pipe from balsa wood and connected it to a valve box, also of balsa, with a key to open and close the valve against the spring load of an elastic band. The air pump was made from scrap materials in the form of a traditional bellows. The air reservoir was a black plastic bin liner, inflated by the pump and squeezed gently to create pressure. The resulting sound, while hardly impressive, encouraged Bill to make several more pipes, each with its own valve box and operating key, joined together with flexible hose. He soon learned what every wind instrument maker already knows — the importance of preventing air leaks. After a few minutes of energetic pumping, to try and keep up with the leakage rate, this first attempt at a music machine failed when the air pump broke down; but not before it had managed to play a rudimentary tune.
The next steps were to make a ‘double-acting’ air pump that would give a smoother output; and to reduce air leakage and increase the scope for melody and harmony by adding more pipes. A local organ builder advised Bill about some basic aspects of pipe design and construction. Components from Cleghorn Waring’s stock-in-trade came in handy — including marine toilet valve housings, lightweight flexible hose and push-fit plastic pipework. The manufacturers of these products generously supplied them for the project free of charge. Everyday items including bicycle wheel spokes, paper clips, small springs, copper wire, table tennis balls, plasticised cotton fabric and a lot of nuts, bolts, screws and glue also featured in the construction.
Jeremy and Bill showed the prototype ‘music machine’ to Mary Hewitson (head teacher) and Mike Edwards (technology co-ordinator) at St Thomas More Catholic JMI School in Letchworth Garden City. They were visibly bemused at first sight by the odd machine, but they warmed to its possibilities and agreed to take part in the pilot stage of the project. The award of a substantial Arts & Business grant enabled specialist help to be recruited to manufacture wooden components and to deliver technological and musical aspects of the project to schools.
I am full of praise for this instrument, which demonstrates principles of physics, music and team spirit in such an engaging and entertaining way, and I hope that its use can be extended to many other schools and organisations.
After Bill overheard colleagues at work talking about ‘Bill’s organ’, a respectable name for the machine began to seem important. Hence WOOFYT (Wooden One-octave Organ For Young Technologists) – subsequently registered as a UK Trade Mark.
While balsa wood pipes and valve boxes were convenient for prototypes, it was clear that they would not last long in young and eager hands. Plywood — robust, stable, and not too expensive — would be preferable. In David Osborn of Woodturners, Baldock, Hertfordshire, the project found a precision woodworker who shared Bill’s enthusiasm. David turned Bill’s pipe and valve box designs into accurately dimensioned plywood components to be assembed into ‘organ’ pipes, valve boxes and the air pump.
Delivering the WOOFYT project – combining multi-disciplinary skills
More than half of Cleghorn Waring’s workshop and office staff of 30 helped to assemble five complete WOOFYTs in the summer of 2003 — one as Bill’s testbed and the others for the year-5 class in each of the four Letchworth primary schools that signed up for the project.
For half a term the pupils learned to assemble, play and dismantle their WOOFYTs, which they also drew and painted and wrote about. Jeremy and the team of musicians he assembled ran half-day workshop sessions, augmented by the Hertfordshire branch of Setpoint (a nationwide organisation whose volunteer ‘ambassadors’ create and run science and technology projects for schools).
The project culminated in an event (‘concert’ was hardly the right word for it) held in Letchworth’s Plinston Hall in October 2003 at which the children from all four schools played their WOOFYTs together on the stage, to an audience of family, friends, Cleghorn Waring’s staff and invited guests.
And after that…
In 2005 Bill retired and moved to Easingwold, North Yorkshire. Jeremy has continued to take the WOOFYT into concert halls, cathedrals, churches, schools, colleges, festivals and community centres in the UK and Ireland, bringing to children – and adults too – a novel musical experience that engages their attention and tests their capacity for teamwork.
Bill & Jeremy continue to develop the WOOFYT, to try and keep the project fresh and interesting to those who encounter it.