News From Terre Haute, Indiana

December 28, 2013

Historical Treasure: Portable music — old style

Chris Weber
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Few people these days think much about the portability of recorded music. We have portable music playback devices of all kinds, from phones to MP3 players. Miniaturization has allowed music to be a part of every minute of our lives if we choose, and at the touch of a finger we can access portable libraries of seemingly endless musical catalogs. However, this was not always the case.

A recent acquisition of the Vigo County Historical Museum puts the realities of this into stark contrast. A circa 1960s Singer portable record player was donated to the museum’s collection, and it is truly a symbol of an ever-changing progression toward more personalized enjoyment of recorded music. With this device, anyone could enjoy music in almost any setting. Using batteries or an AC adapter, the listener could play back albums in their living room or on their lawn, or anywhere else they chose to. As long as you had a stack of vinyl records (likely 45rpm singles), this little player could take your music anywhere.

Think about that: In the last 150 years, listening to music has gone from an exclusively live experience where the material was physically performed, to an experience that is picked from an entire musical catalog on a device that can literally be smaller than a credit card. The Singer is an important step in that progression. Roughly the size of a small shoebox, it could perform the same task as large home phonograph players. For the era, devices like the Singer were a major leap in making music both portable and personal. From the concert hall to the iPod, the Singer portable record player is one bridge of the gap between playing back music only in the home, to being able to take music anywhere.

The next time you are in the museum, ask about the newly acquired materials. Items like the Singer portable record player are not always on display, but are an important part of the museum’s entire collection.