Dr. Charles Faraday, one of the founding members of the Hidden City Orchestra
Dr. Charles Faraday, one of the founding members of the Hidden City Orchestra

The Hidden City Orchestra does strange things to people who are pulled into its orbit.

Take, for example, one of our founding members, Dr. Charles Faraday. By the end of his life, Dr. Faraday subsisted on a diet exclusively of lima beans and refused to sleep without his hecklephone, which caused his wife to leave him. His dying words were

“F Flat.”

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves…

The formation of the Hidden City Orchestra was the direct result of Abraham Lincoln’s speech known as “The Gettysburg Address.”

On that day in 1863, in the audience at Gettysburg, there was a young nurse named Alice Cunningham, who listened very carefully to the president as he spoke the address. The lackluster applause that the president received was by no measure an indication of the fiery inspiration that it awoke in Alice’s head.

After hearing the president’s thoughts about freedom, coincidence and the intention that all of us need to embody in our lives, she ran home, threw open the kitchen door and grabbed all the pots and pans from under the sink.

Running out into the yard, amongst the chickens and pigs, she played The Hidden City Orchestra’s first composition: “Real Time Hoe Down.”  The cacophony of her reverie drew so much attention that she attracted a band of deserters who had had enough of the ‘unfinished work’ of war and were looking for a new occupation.

The deserters were from both sides of the fight.

The original members of the Hidden City Orchestra | Alice Cunningham photo
The original members of the Hidden City Orchestra | Alice Cunningham photo

When the band of men saw Alice performing her Hoe Down, with the sun setting behind her and the dust from the chickens rising from around her feet, they took it as a vision. They were so inspired that they immediately ran to the barn, found their own instruments, and joined the orchestra under her baton.

What happened next shall remain a mystery, but many years later, in his treatise on music-making, Dr. Faraday listed the following dozen rules:

  1. If you have to be either a soldier or a member of the audience, it is better to be a soldier in the audience.
  2. Listen carefully to all orders and then disobey them with abandon.
  3. Remember that we are all fighting for love, so when you put down your gun, go home immediately.
  4. At this rate, with so many dead, we will get to the majority of our healing post-mortem.
  5. Tea & cookies before and after each song.
  6. On all rainy days it is mandatory that we wallow in the mud and salt our pork.
  7. Keep an honest journal.
  8. Remember that we stand on the shoulders of those who are in the ground below us.
  9. The future is a hot air balloon rising on currents of useless oratory.
  10. When lightning strikes the battlefield, it always hits the field hospital.
  11. Taps doesn’t mean it’s over.
  12. There’s always room for one more rule.

Hence, a tradition began that is alive and well to this day…

The Continuing History of the Hidden City Orchestra Chapter II 

As time went on it became apparent in the ranks of the Orchestra that they could no longer afford to pay three separate percussionists and William Allison was asked to trade his washtub for a fifth of bourbon which he gladly agreed to. When Bob Russ heard about the trade he gave up his cymbals and became the band’s portrait painter and conductor. (He had always preferred flailing his arms to making any real sound anyway.) This left Waldemar Sullivan as the only lonely percussionist with a wash tub/baking pan, two small cymbals and a really fine snare drum. In his early years he had spent many years marching with William Mystery, the band’s fife player but the relationship went sour and poor Waldemar became seriously depressed. Unable to heal himself with the bevy of individual instruments, he dropped out, leaving only a pair of socks stuck in the snare of his drum.

He was immediately replaced by an advanced double drum player from Sicily who was rumoured to have a Jewish mother. There is very little information available about where this percussionist got all his playing experience but his use of contraptions was at once startling and revolutionary. A master improviser, he mounted two blocks of wood and a spring on the two cymbals, took off his shoe, put on his predecessor’s sock, and the sock cymbal came into being. Later the sock cymbal was improved and it became the low boy (low-hat) which then evolved into the high-hat that is now part of the modern drum kit.  Let me just say one thing further about the drum kit. It’s obvious that at this time the improvisation of the different drums and cymbals and wood blocks and cow bells and tom tom into one unified multi ambidextrous instrument followed exactly the course of the idea of improvisation in the orchestra. While it is important to recognize and pay homage to the early bass drum foot pedals that got their start in New Orleans, the consolidation of the drums was also achieved by a cadre of other contributors from Chicago, New York and immigrants from other countries throughout the world.

Tom Ritter’s Korean girlfriend whose name was Bang-Song Sung called his cymbals tam tams and this became confused with his Chinese drum “tom toms.” (Needless to say confusion had always played a big part in the advanced vaudeville atmosphere which inhabits the orchestra.) Bang-Song was brought up as a shamanist and she played a major role in the developing philosophy of the group. Her ritualistic dances, chants and outdoor drum solos affected the members profoundly. She was always saying “Bye Bye” which means “sacred chant” in Korean but the group always thought she was leaving. She would only go as far as the yard where she played her two small Korean drums endlessly. She named the drums Changgo and Yonggo. She introduced the idea of the endless song which was re-adopted 70 years later by Daniel Carter and Yoko Ono on the lower east side of Manhattan.

While it is an uncontested fact that the permutations of the bass drum pedal were in New Orleans before the turn of the century, and traveled up the blues highway with the Ludwig brothers in 1907, the actual assemblage of the kit or set of traps was in our humble opinion the work of Dominico Amaro Martino whose set pictured below was legendarily tripped over decades later in New York.

The History Continues…….Chapter Three!

So as this story goes along… Back around the turn into the Twentieth Century, the adopted grandson of Alice Cunningham, who was one of those people who liked to listen to the same sound over and over and over again, became fascinated with the sound that a baseball makes when it hits a wooden bat. He spent a long time with this fascination and passed it down to his son Froggy who became an amazing pitcher for the Cubs. At this point it was a long family tradition and the fascination came down to the next son who, with the stroke of one letter, changed the idiom from wood to word.

After changing the idiom to word, Young Billy decided that the best way to workshop his craft was to bring it to the front room of the Service Center and leave it open to the whims of anybody who might walk through the front door looking for an oil change or directions to the ferry. This led to one of the strangest artistic marriages that ever graced a performance art stage, complete with Chap Books, pinball machine, old tires and loaded innuendos. It was a winning move Hands down!