A Dutch man living in Malta yesterday struck a note deep in the heart of many when he took his terramagka, colloquially known as terramaxka, to Republic Street, in Valletta.

The terramagka is essentially a kind of organ which plays tunes fed via stencilled pieces of cardboard.

Locals and tourists flocked round the colourful organ as happy melodious tunes filled the air.

Mari Von Rooy, a Dutchman married to a Maltese who has been living in Malta for the past 10 years, said it has long been one of his dreams to buy the terramagka and bring it to Malta. He danced around, wearing a traditional Maltese costume, clicking coins in a special container, receiving donations from passersby.

He said he finally managed to buy one that had been in use on the streets of Amsterdam. "It is very difficult to buy one as they are dearly treasured by their owners, who are very attached to them. They are also very expensive to buy when you come across one."

Originally, such musical instruments were hand operated and the operator had to wind them up manually, building up air inside an internal compartment which was then fed to the wind pipes to produce melodies. Today, a battery powered motor takes the strain but that in no way detracts from the magical melodies issuing out of its windpipes.

Mr Von Rooy said he had stencils for over 40 tunes that could be played by the terramagka. These ranged from melodies to band marches.

Some tunes were four minutes long, the longest was 10 minutes. The tunes are made on stencil-like special pieces of treated cardboard which cost Lm5 per metre.

"I want to have some Maltese tunes and have made arrangements to have special stencils made so that I can start playing them here.

"I have to send the musical compositions of such pieces to a company in Holland, which will then have them played by a band, record them and produce the stencils," he said.

The terramaxka was a popular feature in town squares in Malta towards the end of the 19th century. It was always present at the Mnarja festivities in Buskett.

Mr Von Rooy said that according to an article he read there were several of them in Msida and Hamrun, where one particular family is reported to have had 50, most of which fell into disrepair or were bought by Americans.

The one brought to Malta by Mr Van Rooy was made in 1929 and was restored in 1969. Restoration works are very time-consuming and take up to three years. It was made by a German, Carl Frei.

Mr Van Rooy said Hitler had wanted Mr Frei to build such musical gadgets for the German army, but, being against war, Mr Frei fled to the Netherlands, where he later set up a small industry in Breda, in the southern part of the Netherlands. Mr Frei died in the late 1960s.

"It is fun having it. You cannot make a living out of having one here, but I do make something by hiring it for private functions," Mr Van Rooy said.

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