Come Into My Parlor

DBF

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 6, 2016
The_Estey_orchestra_club._(front).jpg

(Public Domain)

There is a small gathering at a home. A young lady sits at the piano and begins to play and soon the sounds of singing can be heard. It’s time for “Parlor Music” and it was quite the entertainment in the 1800’s.

Parlor music is generally referred to as “music composed for domestic use from c1820 to World War I, consisting primarily of songs for voice and piano but also including compositions for solo piano as well as transcriptions and arrangements adaptable for a variety of instruments”. {1}

“I once was in sorrow and tears
Because I was jilted you know,
So right down to the river I ran
To quickly dispose of my woe,

A good friend he gave me advice
And timely prevented the splash,
Now at home I’ve a wife and ten heirs,

And all through a handsome moustache” {*}

From the Stephen Foster Song
“If You’ve Only Got a Moustache”
Published 1864
(Public Domain)


i_047.jpg

Music is woven into the fabric of American society and by the 19th century families were gathering together to make music. Musical soirees and sing-alongs were common place and a genre of music was created primarily for family fun. With the rise in the printing industry sheet music was suddenly available for the masses. In the 18th century sheet music was rare to find but with the development of printing in the first quarter of the 19th century there were over 10,000 titles available at affordable prices.

Music began filling parlors across America and at times family members or friends joined in with varieties of instruments. Songs featured filled a variety of interests. They ranged from love songs, songs for children, ballads on nonsensical themes, and humorous ditties. Pianists entertained with classical music, jigs and toe-tapping favorites especially when other instruments joined in the fun.

Parlor music could touch the heart of a man as was the case with the poem “The Old Arm Chair” written by Eliza Cooks and published in 1838 her book “Poems,” [incidentally a book that was in Abraham Lincoln’s personal library]. It was eventually set to music and became a popular parlor song. The rather sad message of a mother’s favorite rocking chair that she sat in day-after-day until her passing resonated with the President who lost his own mother at nine years of age.

“Years rolled on; but the last one sped,
My idol was shattered; my earth-star fled.
I learnt how much the heart can bear,

when I saw her die in that old Arm Chair.” {3}

*​

The latter part of the 19th century saw a growth of parlor music. As the middle class in America was growing so was the was the affordably of music instruments and teachers. Suddenly there were more native-born music teachers and with more instructors, lessons were available in homes, schools and churches. A musical ability was seen as a mark of “good taste and moral reputability.” {2} In some families music education was considered essential for young ladies - more valuable than reading. It was a skill to attain as homes were filled with the musical notes whether by listening to classical pieces or singing along to all types of songs; patriotic, love or ballads, it was good wholesome fun.

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*
As the Industrial Revolution bloomed throughout the country cities such as New York and Boston became major hubs for piano development. Utilizing the immigrants that were flooding to these cities, they suddenly could produce pianos faster than ever. As railroad lines increased the shipment of pianos from east to west was a growing market. In time Chicago became a hub of piano makers. As the assembly line was perfected; pianos were streamlined and resulted in price reductions and the market expanded. To aid buyers, piano makers by the 1890’s introduced an installment payment plan as an incentive to purchase pianos. (as seen in this advertisement)

Programme_(1919)_(14764249695).jpg

(Public Domain)

In some cases, furniture makers began making the cabinets to hold the assembled parts of a piano and one dealer even marketed a “Stienway” in a hope to convince people it was really a “Steinway”. Some names of these piano makers: W.W. Kimball; Chickering; Henry F. Miller; Vose: Weber; Mason-Hamlin; are still with us today.

However, not all pianos were affordable. Henrich Engelhard Steinway emigrated to the United States in 1850 and began making pianos in New York. He received his first patent in 1857. He sold his first piano in America (Serial #483) for $500.00 (approximately $17,000.00 today). His most affordable piano that he sold in 1859 was priced at $275.00 (approximately $9,000.00). He was the king in America for piano building so much so that by 1866 he built behind his New York showroom one of the first concert halls for audiences in New York City. It could seat 2,500 attendees and was a well-known cultural center From 1866-1891 it was the proud home for the New York Philharmonic.

As piano became more common American home designs were changing to accommodate the parlor piano. Instead of one big room where the family, cooked, played, or slept, they were built to have separate living spaces. Formal dining rooms, separate bedrooms, kitchens and or course the parlor. Parlors were common place in homes and were viewed as the “hub” of family unity. Children and adults could be entertained in their parlors and pianos became a status symbol.

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But in the end it was a time for fun as demonstrated by this song “The Fellow that Looked Like Me” written by John F. Poole and published in 1866:

“In sad despair I wandered,
my heart is filled with woe,
When on my griefs I ponder,
What to do I do not know.

For cruel fate on my does frown,
and the trouble seems to be,
There’s another fellow in this town,
that is just the image of me.

Then, to a ball one night I went,
and was just enjoying the sport,
when a policeman grabbed me by the arm,

saying: “You’re wanted up at Court,

You’ve escaped us twice, but this ere time

I’ll take care you don’t get free!”
So I was arrested and dragged to jail,
for the fellow that looks like me!

I was tried next day, found guilty, too,
and about to be taken down,
when another policemen then brought in
the right criminal - - Mr. Brown.

They set me free and locked up him;
Oh! but he was a sign to see!
The ugliest wretch that ever I saw,

was the fellow that looked like me!” {*}


*​




Sources
1 https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/g...92630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-1002292670
2. https://www.loc.gov/collections/music-of-nineteenth-century-ohio/articles-and-essays/parlor-music/
3. Reading With Lincoln, by Robert Bray
4.
http://www.steinwaybocaraton.com/about/159-facts-about-steinway-and-the-pianos-they-build
5. http://www.victorianweb.org/mt/parlorsongs/index.html
6. https://www.pianobuyer.com/article/upright-cabinet-styles-in-american-piano-manufacturing-1880-1930/
{*} https://folkways-media.si.edu/liner_notes/folkways/FW32321.pdf
 
Joined
Aug 25, 2013
Location
Hannover, Germany
A good friend he gave me advice
And timely prevented the splash,
Now at home I’ve a wife and ten heirs,

And all through a handsome moustache

As someone who enjoyed the TV series "Magnum" and (like almost all female watchers) fancied Tom Selleck and his impressive moustache, I specially liked the praise of it... :D

Besides this, parlor music or "Hausmusik" as we here call it, was still popular in the 1980s. I have a friend who lived with her parents and two sisters in a small two bedroom apartment. All girls played wind instruments, my friend played French horn, her sisters trumpet and trombone. The father, a teacher, played piano and the mother loved to sing (between us, with more enthusiasm than talent). I often thought that the patience of the neighbours in that apartment building was thoroughly tested!
 

James N.

Colonel
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View attachment 363672
(Public Domain)

There is a small gathering at a home. A young lady sits at the piano and begins to play and soon the sounds of singing can be heard. It’s time for “Parlor Music” and it was quite the entertainment in the 1800’s.

That's not a piano - it's an organ. (Note the pedals.)
 

Quiet1

Private
Joined
Nov 3, 2019
Parlor music. Heck yeah!
(I'm sorry if this drifts into the late 19th-early 20th century. You mentioned old piano music...).
Speaking of old pianos, I found a glorious lithographed map of Baltimore that somewhere on here depicts the brand spanking new Knabe Pianoforte Factory complex in 1866 - with in a few blocks of the B&O railroad, for easy shipment of the (daggone heavy) goods.

It's hard to imagine the sheer demand for musical instruments in the US before recorded music -- there were so many piano manufacturers that the 1911 book Pianos and their Makers lists U.S. manufacturers by state. The list runs for pages, even if you exclude manufacturers overseas.

The late 1800s/early 1900s payment plans and production actually helped to kill the industry - they created such a glut of (reasonably) long lasting pianos that big uprights from 130 years ago are still too common to be considered valuable antiques.
The Great Depression and the emergence of radio really took the scythe to American piano companies -- one trade magazine from the early 30s (1932?) repeatedly published lists of manufacturers in three columns: merged; bankrupt; and still operating. The last list was the shortest. The same issue carried numerous ads for cabinet radios -- the writing was already on the wall.

In some ways, the invention of recorded sound destroyed music while trying to preserve it.
It's sooo easy to forget that for most of history, if people wanted music, they had to make their own.

I only recently learned how enjoyable it is to sit around and sing -- or play, or even just listen. A few years ago, a bunch of college friends had semi-regular singing bonfires. Somebody would bring a guitar, somebody would bring an accordion or an Irish drum, everybody would bring snacks and we'd sing random folk songs from dusk until nearly midnight and wish we could go longer.
Nobody was perfect, but we didn't have to be -- it was a bonfire, not a recording studio.
The same people would fire up the piano in the college common room at odd hours, whether to practice or have fun. We were eventually asked not to do this during class hours, because there was a classroom directly above the piano, but any other time was fair game.

[For the record, my brain translated "parlor music" into "horrible sappy old songs" in my head, until I remembered that, between them, Stephen Foster and Scott Joplin rode the begining and end of the parlor-sheet-music wave, with "After the Ball" coming in there too. "The Moustache" was a great reminder that not all "parlor" songs are stuffy and dim!]
<Copyright/watermarked image deleted>
Henry F. Miller, by the way, merged with the manufacturer of my avatar in 1924. Small world.
 
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JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
Parlor music. Heck yeah!
(I'm sorry if this drifts into the late 19th-early 20th century. You mentioned old piano music...).
Speaking of old pianos, I found a glorious lithographed map of Baltimore that somewhere on here depicts the brand spanking new Knabe Pianoforte Factory complex in 1866 - with in a few blocks of the B&O railroad, for easy shipment of the (daggone heavy) goods.

It's hard to imagine the sheer demand for musical instruments in the US before recorded music -- there were so many piano manufacturers that the 1911 book Pianos and their Makers lists U.S. manufacturers by state. The list runs for pages, even if you exclude manufacturers overseas.

The late 1800s/early 1900s payment plans and production actually helped to kill the industry - they created such a glut of (reasonably) long lasting pianos that big uprights from 130 years ago are still too common to be considered valuable antiques.
The Great Depression and the emergence of radio really took the scythe to American piano companies -- one trade magazine from the early 30s (1932?) repeatedly published lists of manufacturers in three columns: merged; bankrupt; and still operating. The last list was the shortest. The same issue carried numerous ads for cabinet radios -- the writing was already on the wall.

In some ways, the invention of recorded sound destroyed music while trying to preserve it.
It's sooo easy to forget that for most of history, if people wanted music, they had to make their own.

I only recently learned how enjoyable it is to sit around and sing -- or play, or even just listen. A few years ago, a bunch of college friends had semi-regular singing bonfires. Somebody would bring a guitar, somebody would bring an accordion or an Irish drum, everybody would bring snacks and we'd sing random folk songs from dusk until nearly midnight and wish we could go longer.
Nobody was perfect, but we didn't have to be -- it was a bonfire, not a recording studio.
The same people would fire up the piano in the college common room at odd hours, whether to practice or have fun. We were eventually asked not to do this during class hours, because there was a classroom directly above the piano, but any other time was fair game.

[For the record, my brain translated "parlor music" into "horrible sappy old songs" in my head, until I remembered that, between them, Stephen Foster and Scott Joplin rode the begining and end of the parlor-sheet-music wave, with "After the Ball" coming in there too. "The Moustache" was a great reminder that not all "parlor" songs are stuffy and dim!]
<Copyright/watermarked image deleted>
Henry F. Miller, by the way, merged with the manufacturer of my avatar in 1924. Small world.

Excellent post, thank you! It's crazy to think about - it wasn't that long ago that you'd see a household being broken broke up, someone had died of old age or was moving to a nursing home, " Know anyone who wants a piano? ". It would frequently be an awfully nice upright that sat where it was for decades, sheet music still in the bench. Remember one neighbor broke one up because no one would take it- made me wince and I can't play the thing. ( years of the obligatory lessons, nothing stuck )

IS it making, if not a come-back at least being appreciated again as a kind of community op? That's be a nice thought . We've been rocketing along far too swiftly, love to think picnics and bonfires and singing ( however all over the place ) would be ' back '.
 

DBF

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 6, 2016
I only recently learned how enjoyable it is to sit around and sing
This is how I discovered that I wanted to learn to play the piano. In elementary school my best friend’s grandmother had a piano in her parlor and my favorite pastime was hearing her play and singing along. My piano lessons started and I never looked back. Now when people visit my home they must bring their voices for I provide the parlor music or if I’m lucky one of my guests plays and I can sit back and listen.
 

Quiet1

Private
Joined
Nov 3, 2019
All right, since we're still speaking of pianos/organs/parlor music and the popularity thereof....
I was poking through some scanned issues of Harper's Weekly and found both of these ads on the same page.
They're almost word-for-word the same, and both for New York companies. Competition must have been fierce, even in 1861.

View attachment 387711View attachment 387712
(Harper's Weekly Vol. 5, no. 210 1/5/1861)

And it was still fierce 54 years later...
View attachment 387731
Here's a state-of-the-art showroom from The Piano Magazine (vol. 12 no. 3; March 1915) with what looks suspiciously like my avatar catching the light on its curvy front (center left, in front of the pillar).


Piano ads: https://archive.org/details/harpersweeklyv5bonn/page/16/mode/2up?q=January+5
Showroom:https://www.google.com/books/edition/_/q-8qAAAAYAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=Smith & Barnes

 
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