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The Calliope Style

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Technically, the calliope style is very simple. The left hand plays broken chords, often with a stepping bass line, while the right hand plays the melody as the highest notes and fills in the chord below it. Often, both hands will include some chromatic embellishments that "sweeten" the chord progressions, especially important since dynamics are impossible to control.

There are some major distinctions between calliope music played on calliopes and on pianos. Due to the difference in tonal quality, calliope songs are usually played an octave lower on piano, from C3 to G5, although this range restriction need not apply. Due to the physical structure of the piano, songs can be played much more rapidly and with more embellishment. Also available on piano are the sustain pedal and a full dynamic range based on the player's pressure at the keyboard, both features that the calliope lacks.

Most of today's calliope players learned their art from one man, Capt. Clarke C. "Doc" Hawley, one of the last steamboat captains in the states. His style of playing has been imitated by countless calliopists, including Capt. Gabe Chengery, David Tschiggfrie, Keith Norrington, and Travis Vasconcelos. Visit the media section of this site to compare these and other calliopists.

Calliope Media >

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This site made 2005 for MUSC 140 | View site references/sources