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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Denver Post Fall Calendar, 9/27/2014The Denver Post, September 27th
27: CALF's family-friendly "Harvest Day" offers a pumpkin patch, hayrides, carriage rides, exhibits, games and music on the 133-acre Lowell Ranch, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Admission is free. CALF's Ag Barn, 2330 S. I-25, ... Oct. 25-26: Offering "Rides, Candy...Read more
Weekend BriefingBennington Banner, September 26th
BENNINGTON -- The U.S. Forest Service will waive fees at most of its day-use recreation sites in honor of National Public Lands Day. Check with your local forest or grassland or on www.recreation.gov to see if your destination charges a fee. Go online...Read more
Area Arts NewsThe Daily Star, September 26th
Harkening back to a tradition that is centuries old and still common among soloists, the ensemble has adapted to performing sans printed sheet music. They will perform Bartók's string quartets Nos. 2, 4, and 6 from memory. The cost is $24 in advance or...Read more
Event City puts the 'fun' in 'fundraisers'The Oshkosh Northwestern, September 24th
OAHS.org for complete details and a pledge sheet. On Saturday, the EAA AirVenture Museum will host their annual September Swing event from 7 to 11 p.m. inside the aviation museum. They'll bring the spirit and music of the 1940s alive among the Eagle...Read more
The 7 best programs for mixing professional audioDigital Trends, September 21st
For those of you keen on composing your own music, Logic Pro's Score editor makes constructing sheet music a breeze. With an improved interface ... Choose from a variety of modern and vintage amps to achieve your desired sound. Logic lets you mix and ...Read more
The Buzz: Downtown Appleton in/out guideAppleton Post Crescent, September 21st
Pixel Pro Audio (601 W. College Ave.) is in the process of moving from Kimberly. It sells new, used and vintage audio, DJ and recording equipment for musicians. Owner Jay Lison bought the former Morton Pharmacy building on the corner of State Street...Read more
Detroit area musical instrument shops improviseThe Detroit News, September 19th
As brick-and-mortar business dried up, he focused his energies on selling vintage instruments on Craigslist and eBay. Without the ... He said teachers and students from Dearborn to Monroe still come to him for instruments, repairs, sheet music and lessons...Read more
Belfast Arts Final Fridays Art Walk, Sept. 26, celebrates autumnPenBayPilot.com, September 16th
Quench: Provisions for the Savvy on Beaver Street will open Artfully Orchestrated: Illustrations on Vintage Sheet Music by Jessica Harris. Harris's ink and watercolor illustrations of animals, plants, and garden fairies on a piece of vintage music...Read more