The publication of folio-size sheets of American popular music dates to the late 18th century, but the practice didn't pick up steam until the 1830s, '40s, and '50s. That's when upright pianos first began to find their way into the parlors and salons of U.S. homes. Artists who produced sheet music covers early in their careers before going on to acclaim for their oil paintings include Fitz Henry Lane, Winslow Homer, and James Abbott McNeill Whistler.
The Civil War was a productive period for popular music compositions and also for beautifully lithographed title pages, most of them published in the North. There are also many Confederate music publications to collect—the war-based and illustrated pieces are generally of most interest. Though paper quality in the South was generally poor, all Southern sheet music is hard to find and desirable.
But the truly widespread popularity of sheet music in the United States in the late-19th and early-20th centuries coincided with the proliferation of domestically produced pianos after the Civil War. Up to that point, piano-making had been a labor-intensive craft practiced only by highly skilled workers. Instituting mass-production techniques, U.S. manufacturers transformed this artisan enterprise into a business. By the end of the 19th century, hundreds of thousands of pianos a year were produced, and every single one of them required many more times its number in printed sheet music.
The hub of sheet-music publishing was in New York City on West 28th Street between 5th Avenue and Broadway, a stretch that became known as Tin Pan Alley. For a while, the publishers grouped there were essentially printing money—one 1892 hit, “After the Ball” sold two-million copies in its first year alone. “Sidewalks of New York” was published in 1894, “The Band Played on” in 1895, and “Hello! Ma Baby” in 1899.
Vintage sheet music is fascinating to collectors not only for its range of subjects, but for its entertaining cover graphics, featuring everything from pastoral landscapes to city street scenes. As such, they are snapshots, albeit romanticized ones, of life at the turn of the 20th century.
Other people collect sheet music less for the imagery on their covers as the songwriters associated with a particular tune. Scott Joplin compositions such as “Maple Leaf Rag” are popular, as are those by George M. Cohan (“Give My Regards To Broadway”), Irving Berlin (“Alexander’s Ragtime Band”), and George Gershwin (“Swanee”).
Then, just as the piano had created a demand for sheet music, two inventions, followed by the Depression, brought the glory years of the medium to an end. The first was the introduction of the phonograph, especially the Victrola, which was all the rage in the early 1920s. By the end of that decade, though, radios meant people could get their entertainment without lifting a finger, let alone having to gather around the family piano to sing along to sheet music.
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Cabaret's holiday show: It's a wonderful playMail Tribune, November 23rd
The Oregon Cabaret Theatre's production of “It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” is written by Joe Landry, with book and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and music by Joe Raposo. The play is a funny, ... Directed by OCT's artistic director, Valerie...Read more
Sheet music, songs inspire picture storiesThe Ellsworth American, November 21st
ELLSWORTH — Artist Jessica Harris has used vintage sheet music as her canvas to capture scenes of nature, both fierce and whimsical, for several years. Her work has been the focus of “Artfully Orchestrated: Illustrations on Vintage Sheet Music” this...Read more
Party to an exclusive Zombie Kids mixRed Bull, November 21st
Since meeting in a vintage clothing store in Madrid, DJs and producers Cumhur Jay and Edgar Candel Kerri have toured the world's dancefloors together as The Zombie Kids, mixing electronica and punk, dubstep and alt-metal. ... We want to have a solid...Read more
Upcoming home and garden events: holiday home tours and gift markets galoreNOLA.com, November 20th
Arts Market of New Orleans -- Nov. 29, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Palmer Park at S. Carrollton and S. Claiborne avenues -- The market features local art work, crafts, food, music and children's activities. Free. ... Vendors include American Prep, Commune Vintage...Read more
How the Wu-Tang Clan Overcame Bad Blood on Comeback LP 'A Better ...RollingStone.com, November 20th
In early 2013, RZA began work on new Wu-Tang songs, doubling down on his organic approach to production: Instead of sampling old R&B songs, as he had on early Wu-Tang records, he would make his own vintage-flavored tracks from scratch...Read more
50 holiday things to do with the kids Or 50 things to do with the kids ...Chicago Tribune, November 20th
What started out modestly enough as a one-time event on Christmas Eve 1983 has blossomed into a full-fledged Chicago tradition at the vintage Music Box cinema house. Imagine how many angels have received their wings! Between screenings of "White ...Read more
Cory Arcangel Teams Up With the Musician and Composer Chris D'Eon at the MetNew York Times (blog), November 19th
Museum of Art. D'Eon will be performing a suite of his own compositions inspired by Baroque dance music and 11 works by Arcangel from “Dances for the Electric Piano” — his series of 24 short pieces, based on vintage house and techno riffs, written...Read more
15 Unexpected Twists on the Basic Holiday PartyPOPSUGAR, November 19th
Make a statement: No one gets excited about a blah spread, so pick a theme for arranging food, such as using vintage serving platters; swapping a nontraditional material, like wrapping paper, for a tablecloth; or introducing a musical theme, with sheet...Read more