queen victoria
Victorian Pride
History of Parlor Music in America


In the 19th century, long before radio, television, motion pictures, stereos, computers and iPods, we entertained ourselves, our families, and our guests with music and singing. In most families, usually, at least one person read music and played an instrument. By 1850, pianos sat in parlors of many, if not most, middle-class homes. Music and bookstores sold songs in sheet music form. The technical demands of this “parlor music” easily allowed amateur musicians and singers to share their talents.

Although Tin Pan Alley in New York City was the center for song publishing at the time, music and bookstores in many smaller towns published hometown compositions. Piano-makers and music teachers, especially, produced their own-labeled music to help promote their businesses or

Victorian Music Books

products.

By 1870, songs of this genre became more complex and sophisticated in their melodic and harmonic vocabulary, and professional singers and musicians played them in public recitals.

For whatever reasons, mainly changes in musical tastes, the songs in these books have been forgotten. Yes, they are

archived in the Library of Congress, but the tunes are not recognized in modern times. In fact, these songs may not have even been played in the last hundred years or more.

Please keep in mind that these compositions reflected the times in which they were written, with an emotion and verve that describes the actions and events of the day. Although the tunes tend to be exuberant, you can actually hear the hometown pride in these songs. Many of the songs were written for special occasions - to herald an anniversary, the opening of a grand building, to honor a school, and to give a town its own song. Some songs were played by local musicians or bands at fancy parties and balls. You imagine women in ball gowns and men smoking cigars, candle chandeliers and all the Victorian opulence of life in America.

I’m from Elmira, New York and I knew that some old songs about Elmira existed. I thought that eventually, I would turn the idea into a history article. Then I got to thinking if Elmira has old songs - other towns must also. Where were they? Let’s get them out and play them. I want to hear what they sound like. So I became a music archaeologist and found these songs and played them. I liked what I heard and wanted to share the music. Through the miracles of 21st century technology I was able to “clean up” the rips, tears, water stains and reintroduce these songs from our forgotten musical past. I have also created a music CD of many of the songs in this book should you like to hear them.

The songs in these books are a different and unique type of history - when you play or hear them, you feel an instant connection with the composer. You are transported back in time. The songs date from 1840 to 1890.

We were all proud of our towns, our buildings, and our people, and we showed our appreciation with songs.

Diane Janowski, Publisher
New York History Review


Dedicated to acquiring and digitally restoring/preserving items of historic merit, including books,
sheet music, journals, and cookbooks of importance to Americans in the 19th century


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