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How to bang a Mahler box

I’m not sure I agree with Christopher McLauren’s claims of a ‘tradition’, and I doubt Mahler would, either. But you can’t fault him for enthusiasm.


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  1. Clyde McConnell says:

    Come on, KC, why no demo of the beast?

  2. Tony Firshman says:

    What a pity he did not demonstrate the sound on camera!

  3. JBBaldwin says:

    What a tease!

    Show us the box.

    Show us the hammer.

    Talk about acoustics and construction and history.

    Neglect to hit the bloody thing!


  4. Did I miss something or did that hammer and hammer box in the clip sound like one hand clapping, or did the kid get cold feet? I was half expecting it to be demonstrated on a conductor or critic (though not you, Norman), and darn, it just didn’t happen. Mahler would be depressed and no vacation in the Alps could cure the condition.

  5. Funny he just talks about the box without demoing it.

    Is it actually known what kind of “hammer” was used during Mahler’s own performances?

    • Mr Oakmountain says:

      In Vienna’s Musikvereinssaal they used to whack the wooden floor of the orchestral podium with a large wooden hammer. It also had a visual effect as the dust beneath the podium rose after each blow. But I do not know if this was an original instrument. The VPO or VSO might know. I do not have the VPO Bernstein Video at hand to check what they do.

  6. Fascinating – but he could at least have given it a good old thump for us to hear!

  7. The percussionist is using the metaphor that “if a tree falls in the forest (hammer in symphony hall) where no one can hear — is there any sound?”

  8. Amusing and interesting… sounds as though he’s aware of the kind of thing Mick Jagger sang about in Jumpin’ Jack Flash re being “Crowned, with a spike right through my head.” McLauren describes the instrument as like a guillotine; the conductor has to wait for it to fall, and then spring into action. Poor box.

  9. Dear Norman et al,

    Thanks for your interest in our Mahler Box video. We absolutely are going to demonstrate the box on video, we simply did not want to do it all in a single video, and we should have made that clear to the audience. Please stay tuned for our own “big bang” demo.

    Frank Byrne
    Executive Director, Kansas City Symphony

  10. A guillotine and a hammer are far from making the same sound I would think. The mode of motion of the crucial component and the nature of the resisting force are quite different.

    And which orchestra is playing the background track?

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